When Your Talent and Good Looks Fail……
I glanced up in time to see David Paschall scamper across the goal line. Well, actually, it was just the end of the field. We had no goal lines at practice. He had just run over me and blasted past the other defenders down the side line closest to the gym. Well, actually, we didn’t have a side boundary, this was just practice—
“Colbert, you’ve got to have heart!” Coach Scott was foaming at the mouth, “You can’t tackle anybody with your ability. You’ve got to do it with your heart!”
I struggled to my feet and checked the bruise already arising on my forearm. “It would help your heart if you were six inches taller and packing sixty more pounds.” John Ingram whispered as we huddled up for the next play. Billy Barksdale grinned, “Maybe if you’d bring a rope or try some Elmer’s Glue on your hands….”
Very funny guys.
Chick King would give us one of his famous lectures at baseball practice, “You can’t play this game if you don’t love it! It’s not about how fast you run; or how hard you throw the ball. It’s about the size of your heart. You’ve got to WANT to beat the other team!
Deake Bradley would mumble as the 30 minute discourse came to a close, “A Sandy Koufax fastball could sure shore up my heart.” Bobby Winchester tapped me on the arm, “Does he want us to beat them guys from Jackson or love’em to death?” I headed to home plate thinking if I had forearms like Chick I wouldn’t have to depend on my heart!
I wrestled one year on who to ask to the prom. Billie Jean sure wanted to go with me. But Charlotte had just broken up with her boyfriend. And Chick, proving that baseball was not all he could think about, suggested a girl he felt would be “just right for me”. Mom and I talked it over at the supper table after Dad and David Mark had moved into the living room. “Son, trust your heart. I’m sure you’ll make the right choice.”
That wasn’t much of an answer! My heart wasn’t exactly jumping out of my chest to tell me things in 1964!
Head knowledge ain’t a bad thing either. And neither is life’s experiences….. As the years rolled by and I gained a heaping, helping spoonful of each, the yellings of Coach Scott, Chick King’s lectures and Mom’s gentle understanding began to make sense.
The race doesn’t always go to the swiftest. The fight is not always won by the biggest. The richest don’t always have the most. The self-assured, always-get-it-right folks have their doubts. The most timid sometimes hide the greatest courage.
There is not a person among us who doesn’t have a tale about the underdog having his day. The 1980 U. S. Olympic hockey team comes readily to mind. As does an undersized, knobby-kneed racehorse name Seabiscuit. Harry Truman didn’t give up in 1948. And I know a lot of men out there that married way above themselves. You didn’t do it on looks and charm…..it had to be your heart!
I’ve been privileged to coach football for 30 years now. And guess what I’ve learned? Coach Scott was right, you do tackle with your heart! Chick King was dead on. You come early and stay late everyday to prepare yourself for the game. Talent won’t make you do that. I don’t even think money or fame can do it. I pity the ones that pass through and never “get it”.
And I’m not talking about sports or ancient girlfriends here. And if you think it is just an old cliché, then you have missed the boat altogether. You want to live large, let your heart do a little more of the thinking for you. You can scoff at the “rose colored glasses” approach but I guarantee you, the goodness abounds for the ones that can see it.
You want to have a great marriage. Get off that stuff about who makes the most money or who wins at Jeopardy; whether you watch golf or the Hallmark Chanel and it positively doesn’t matter if the toilet seat is up or down. Don’t grind it to a screeching halt. Get your hearts into the marriage for goodness sakes!
Children are a gift beyond all measure. It takes patience. And love. And wisdom. And forbearance. It takes the grit to say no; and foresight when to say yes. You don’t spare the rod…..you administer it with your heart. Happy, appreciative children grow up to be happy, appreciative adults. That may come in handy for you someday!
You want to get along with everyone at work, turn on your heart instead of your computer. You want to be a better neighbor; find a neighbor that needs a little of your heart. Try giving instead of taking. Sharing instead of hording. Don’t give us the old perfunctory “I’m trying to do my best”, do your best!
We’re just finishing up a tumultuous political season. Most of it seemed absolutely bonkers. We’re not going to sort this thing out with our minds. We’re not going to turn America around by think-tanks in Washington. We’re not going to “intellecticize” ourselves out of our economical, social and political dole drums. It appears to me that most everyone vying to get this nation moving in the right direction have already lost their minds.
Our only hope might be that they give their hearts a chance.
The “Trick” Was On The Goblins!
It was nip and tuck there for a while. Mom was not keen on Halloween. We’d want to go trick-or-treating. She’d be warning us about the underworld attachment to this particular holiday. We were hungry for those Milk Duds and Sugar Babies. She was concerned that we’d be drawn in by witches, ghouls, haints and such. My little heart was sinking fast. Mother could put on that Ecclesiastical helmet sometimes and she wouldn’t budge!
Leon was a pretty quick thinker for his age. And he was always her favorite. “Mom, a loving and benevolent God couldn’t be against free candy!”
I’d get my Lone Ranger mask on so Miss Brooks and the other neighbors wouldn’t recognize me and I’d head down the street. We didn’t care about haunted houses or spider webs, we were hunting for Zag Nuts and Baby Ruths. And this was way before the “bite-size” days. We got real candy bars! I wasn’t as smart as Leon but it wasn’t hard to figure; the more front porches you could get to, the more loot you could haul home!
West Cherry Street was the best. The houses were packed in there pretty close together; quite a contrast from way out where we lived. And Mrs. Bouldin musta bought a ton of Three Musketeers. Everybody on the street would say, “How are the Colbert boys tonight?” as we lined up in front of them with our paper sacks extended. We’d be amazed that they saw through our disguises but we didn’t care as long as they added to our weight. We’d squat down under the streetlight where Cherry ran into Bailey and count our loot.
“Leon, why is it called ‘trick-or-treating’?”
“If they don’t give us a good treat, we play a trick on them.”
I pondered on that as we continued our rounds. What kind of trick? David was five, I was six and Leon had just celebrated his eleventh birthday. It wasn’t like we were going to turn their cows out or pour kerosene on their willow tree. I wanted the candy but I wasn’t going to incur Dad’s wrath by doing something stupid. Mom just thought those goblins and ghouls were bad! Dad on the warpath would make Freddie Kruger look like a lap kitten.
The bad part about the evening was gathering up back on the braided run in the living room. Leon insisted we pool our loot and divide it evenly. He counted a jaw breaker or the green peanuts the same as a Butterfinger. And somehow in the separating me and Dave would end up with the peanuts and hard candy. He got all of the chocolate that first year! Experience is a wonderful thing. The next year I was wolfing down Almond Joys and Hershey Bars between houses. At most places my mouth was so full I couldn’t get out “trick-or-treat” so I just held out my sack and hoped.
Life was good.
My heart and my taste buds still rue the day I outgrew my Lone Ranger mask. Somehow towering above Miss Brooks and bending down with my asking bag didn’t look just right. Leon, as the years and the celebrations moved on, still provided most of the leadership and entertainment. One Halloween he borrowed Nicky Joe’s horse, put a sheet over his head and went thundering through town as the headless horsemen. I don’t think Mom would have approved. And when I saw Leon and Prince leap the fish pond up on the town square and roar across the railroad tracks just ahead of the 8:15 out of Nashville I thought one of those evil Halloween banshees she’d warned us about surely had taken over his body. When he ran through B. P. Moore’s chicken coop and stomped through Miss Vonnel Webb’s prized shrubbery I realized the dummy hadn’t cut any eyeholes in the sheet!
It wasn’t some evil spirit exorcism at all; it was more like a case of the blind staggers!
The PTA held their annual Halloween Carnival in the high school auditorium. They had “fishing booths” and cake walks. You could bob for apples, throw darts or pick up ducks and win a prize every time. There were tons of hot dogs and cold drinks. But the most popular food was a caramel covered apple on a stick. A fairly tame haunted house was put together behind the stage curtain. There was no conscience searching or sermons denouncing the PTA’s involvement in this “pagan” holiday. We all understood that it was the organizations best money maker of the year. Practicality won out over sorcery.
The whole evening was about as American as you could get. We didn’t believe in ghost. Marie Laveau. Or some kind of fiendish creatures sent to suck the blood out of us or lure us into the woods down by Jerrold Switch bottom. It was more about fun and breaking from the routine and living large than committing to a life of shady paths and whispery characters.
I don’t know how wholesome eating four Milky Ways, two bags of Candy Corn, a Chick-O-Stick and fifteen Bit-O-Honeys between Mr. James Williams’ house and the high school could be for you. But we survived. I figure all that candy is one of the main reasons some of us are still bouncing off the walls to this day!
I appreciate those long ago evenings. I recall them with great fondness. And I realized at the time, but even more so today, Halloween is a simple celebration…..of what we make it to be. We got the goodies…..and the haints didn’t get us!
Ruth Ann Speaks For All Of Us
LaRenda Bradfield and I did “The Twist” together back in junior high. It probably wasn’t a pretty sight. But we thought we were leading the pack! Chubby Checker had started a national craze and we were knee deep into any of the latest fads. We’d been through coonskin caps, the Slinky, hula hoops, spud guns and cat-eyed glasses. We’d sported G. I. haircuts, flat tops and experimented with peroxide. In this time between Elvis and the Beatles we were combing out our duck tails and trying to grow sideburns.
“Do you think we will elect a Catholic president?” The music had stopped and we were vying for the Cokes sitting on the table. Bob Edwards asked the question.
Jane Hill handed me a drink and said, “Who’s running for president? And which one is the Catholic?” Political wig-wamming wasn’t high on our agenda in 1960. Our CNN newscast came from the front porch of Woodow Kennon’s Store. If you wanted to tune in to Fox News you had to mossy over to the counter at the City Café. Both places weighed what was coming out of Washington against the local hog prices; or what cotton was bringing per bale at the docks in Memphis. Any other “national news” was for the folks in New York City or Hong Kong.
We hung out mostly at Frank’s Dairy Bar where the talk centered on Bobby Brewer’s new love interest, could we beat the dreaded Huntingdon High Mustangs and what was Larry Ridinger doing on top of Cynthia Wheat’s house so early in the morning! We didn’t even care about hog prices.
What a special group! I can remember asking Ricky Hale about his cousin, Charlotte Melton. “Do you think she would go out with me?” He must have stared out in space for a full minute. “Why in the world would anybody want to go out with her?” He said it like she had gingivitis or something!
“Kes, I’ve got some bad news for you if you’re thinking about dating.” Jerry Lewis dead panned it so well the crowd grew silent. I thought he might have some fatal medical history that my folks were hiding from me. “Your only chance is a complete facial transplant!”
The group roared with laughter. I didn’t think it was too funny.
Pam Garrett nudged me later. “Listen, you’re not all that bad looking….for a boy.” I have always been grateful for those kind words…..I think! The fact is Jimmy Mabry, Emily Young, Skip Trevathan, Janice Noles, Billy Thompson, Bobby Jackson and every other single member in my class taught me more than I’ve garnered from any President of the United States!
I can remember studying math with Anne Alexander. Diana Morris helped me with physics. I would turn and hand the football to John Ingram on “Dive Right” and he would do the rest. If I threw it high enough Randall Pinson would run under it. If I managed to get to second base, Don Melton would knock me in. If I had to kiss a girl in the junior class play, Fran Smartt reluctantly volunteered.
We were more interested in whether Miss Polly would force us to memorize that Shakespeare stuff than who might be the next president. Sneaking out of fourth period study hall and finding some doughnuts was more pertinent than Senator Estes Kefauver’s anti-trust legislation. We were trying to blow up the school in chemistry lab, not find a way to beat the Russians to the moon. And passing our driver’s license test, not finishing our fall-out shelter, became the overriding theme of our middle teenage years.
If my “out of town girl friend experience” didn’t work out I went looking for Graylene Lemonds. I didn’t figure Congress could help me with this one. When I was feeling sorry for myself I called up Suzie Cozart. If I gave up a home run to lose the game I kicked Buddy Wiggleton.
We were not worried about “way-off things”. Even as we honed up on the events leading up to World War II, traced the Appian Way or memorized the three main crops of Liberia, our hearts never strayed far from the group. We were interested in those folks we could feel and touch. And for us, that meant the Class of ’65. I’m not sure how to quantitate the term “formative years” but I know my thoughts, ideas and goals about life were not “voted on” in Washington. They were hammered out on the vacant lots along Stonewall Street. They were fashioned at the sock hops in the high school auditorium. They were cemented during the late afternoon/early evening confabs at that back table at Frank’s.
I don’t know who was responsible for the Bay of Pigs fiasco. I don’t know who first siphoned off social security money. I can’t tell you who ran against Jimmy Carter. But I can name everyone on our eight grade basketball team. I remember how pretty Becky Broome was the first day she showed up. I distinctly remember who started the spit ball war in Latin Class. I remember every person who helped on the senior yearbook.
I never bothered to thank the class for their personal involvement in my life. I figure they already know. I’ve made a career out of abusing them in these little stories. You can get away with that when you love each other like we do.
Charlotte didn’t have gingivitis.
Ruth Ann Wiley studied on Bob’s 1960 question about the readiness of America to accept a Catholic as president and replied, “I’d vote for the best looking one!”
That about sums us up.
Free Gene Autry Hard To Top!
They fooled me the first year. My parents were the main culprits. But most everyone in town was in on it. I was so young. And gullible. You could have sold me the Brooklyn Bridge…..if you’d a’taken a magnet or a live bull frog as down payment.
I was wide eyed and ready for the first grade. Older folks had been priming me for weeks. “There is so much to learn.” “You are starting out on a grand adventure.” “Education is the key……”
My grand adventure waned pretty quickly as me and Dick, Jane and Spot muddled through that entry level reading book. We summed, ciphered and numerated until I ran out of fingers. And Miss Carolyn lined us up for the perfunctory Friday afternoon spelling bee whether we were ready or not.
I thought the second grade would be better. So I kinda went along the next August without too much fuss. It turned out to be more of the same only with bigger words and numbers. I spent most of my day looking out the window and pondering on what I could be doing at the big ditch down behind the house. I could have swung across that thing fifteen times while Miss Booth was herding us through the Blue Bird reading class. If it hadn’t a’been for lunch, recess and clay modeling the whole school thing would have been a total loss!
By the third grade August had leaped way up on my least favorite months of the year chart. It marked the end of the summer and loomed as an ominous threat to life as we knew it. It took us out of OUR “hang loose” mode and unceremoniously tossed us into THEIR “here are the rules” constraints.
Me and Ricky had figured it out one August. We were going to hop a freight train to Milan. We could get a job in an all night café. Or even better, we might catch on at the movie theater. No school and free Gene Autry pictures. Now, that was more of my idea of a grand adventure! He had an aunt down there. At the very least, she might hide us out until the school year was over. I don’t know what exactly happened to our plans. Rick got a stomach ache and Dad wouldn’t let me out of the house the night we were going to make our big break……
Mid August found us back in school. And the fourth grade turned out to be more of the same. I felt trapped. Kidnapped! Shanghaied! We’d talk about it over our sack lunches. Donna allowed that the knowledge couldn’t hurt us. She was right, of course, but I kept thinking about that big ditch. And I was having a little trouble by now with the idea of having to go through life lining up on the opposite side of the room from the girls and having a spell-off every week!
Somewhere around junior high the light bulb came on for most of us. August was an essential month after all. School, even as it became more difficult, made more sense. Learning wasn’t necessarily fun….but it was necessary! And life expanded outside the class room. They encouraged us to go out for football and basketball. They provided coaches and uniforms. They let us practice against each other until we’d start fighting and then they’d take us over to Huntingdon or down to Gleason and we would fight those fellers for a while. Miss Paschall told us about Istanbul and Shangri-La. We had no clue where these places were, we just liked the way they rolled off her tongue.
It never really seemed like a grand adventure. It was more like an every day routine thing that encompassed all we were about. Once we figured out what they expected, life got a lot easier.
I don’t remember exactly when they took the clay away from us.
Good friends made it palatable. And the pretty girls were a benefit. Teachers who understood and liked us certainly helped. We matured in spite of ourselves. And we branched out. Squeaky would sneak down the fire escape and come back with the best glazed doughnuts. When Latin got a little boring, we created the silent spit ball war. Match box football games would get you through fourth period study hall better than any of that Don Quixote, Count of Monte Cristo, Tale of Two Cities stuff! It’s a wonder we never blew up the science building. We did manage to set it on fire a couple of times….
You’d think a body would get used to August after a dozen of those back to school deals. I never could. I reckon the big ditch had a bigger pull on me than I ever realized. The August I went off to college was the worst. I had the necessity part down pat. I could talk that “broadening my horizons”, “enlarging my possibilities” etc, until the cows come home. The problem was I didn’t want to leave the cows…..
Life is amazing. And it is more like school than one would first imagine. While we are searching for the “grand adventure” or the “big enlightening” life kinda happens. It is pretty much day by day no matter how we try to speed it up or slow it down.
I have this discussion with myself every August. And I figure I’m better off than if I’d just stayed down at the big ditch or took that job at the Milan picture show……but I ain’t dead certain positive about it.
Leaving……and Saying Goodbye
The silence was deafening. I stood in the hallway, searching for the pictures of me and Leon and David Mark that showed us proudly sporting those Lions Club Little League uniforms. Mom had every team picture from every year lined up from just outside the back bedroom all the way down to the kitchen. Today, those walls were bare. Not even a hint that we’d once shared the diamond with Kent Wilson, Terry Brown, Glen Burns, Robert Earl Melton…..if I had the time and inclination, I could still name every player in every picture a half a century after Mr. Glen Chalk snapped those old black and white photos.
I picked up the phone. For the first time in my life there was no dial tone. I was awash in quietness. I thought of the ballgames I had “called up” on this phone. I remembered a few girls I’d tried to woo over this line…..’course, that never worked. Leon would be wrestling the phone out of my hand or yelling “Hey, Billie Jean” when he knew it was Pam. Daddy would clear his throat if you were on the thing for more than a minute, “Son, we don’t need any idle chit chat, we might get an important call.” Shucks, we didn’t get two calls a week and they would be from Aunt Jessie or Miss Purvis.
I ran my hand across the tape that was hastily plastered over the fist sized hole. David got an “important call” from a girl telling him she was finding someone else. He gave the sheetrock a little “love tap”. Mother shifted the 1954 Lions picture with Leon and that old Rawlings glove over the tape and no one ever knew.
I turned the corner into the bedroom and listened. Nothing! Not even a squeak out of the old springs on the single bed that used to sleep me against the far wall. That old thing had been demoted to the upstairs in 1961. It once heard the rumble from above. That was Leon’s Kamikaze yell! It was the only warning I would have as he launched himself off the top bunk on the opposite side of the room. I’m telling you, he literally flew across that hallowed space and landed chest first on my bed! I was doing some flying of my own to roll out of his way. I’d bang against the wall as Leon smashed those springs to the limit. Before we could recover and protect ourselves David would be in mid air hurdling toward us.
Dave would sometimes fall short, hit the floor, and jar the whole house. Mom would stick her head in, “You boys don’t get too rowdy”. She’d do the same thing when the pillow fights would erupt. The bloody nose didn’t come from the pillows; it came from the contact with the floor when you got knocked off the top bunk! I have seen feathers floating past the light fixture.
Don’t let the silence fool you……this house once rang with laughter.
I eased into the living room. I remembered when it would have been a sprint! But today I didn’t have anyone chasing me. The only thing left was the old couch Aunt Beatrice re-upholstered back in the sixties. The fireplace had shrunk over the years. It once seemed to take up one whole wall. You wouldn’t believe the pop corn heated there….or the arguments on how to best lay the backlog. We’d dress on that hearth on extra cold days. You’d burn on one side….and freeze on the other. We turned in unison.
I was off in college when Mom replaced the braided rugs with carpet. I fussed at her for a while. That big rug in the center made a great ball field. We would lay baseball cards down for defensive players and roll a marble across “home plate”. A wooden pencil made a perfect bat. The hitter was trying to knock the “ball” to the outer layers of different colored braids without making contact with any portion of the cards. Maybe I was a little old for braided rug baseball by then…..but it would have been nice to have kept my options open.
We’d stretch out on that same rug and make our Christmas wishes as we poured over the Sears and Roebuck catalog. We didn’t have the money for any of those things, but that was a rug to dream on! The Christmas thought turned my eyes instinctively to the corner where Mom always placed the tree. I just thought I knew desolate….. The tears, which had been lurking since I opened the back door, found their way to the surface. You wouldn’t believe the uproar in this room when me and Leon and David got to throwing those silver icicles over the top branches!
I lingered in the kitchen. How empty it looked with nothing on the stove. I remembered how her hands never stopped as she rolled out those biscuits. I smiled at how she would put the turnip greens on top of the cornbread one night and call it “hay stacks” and then slice the cornbread in half the next night, cram the turnips inside and call it a “sandwich”. She didn’t fool us. But we ate it anyway.
We shared our hopes and dreams and disappointments around that table. We lived, loved and grew around that table. We laughed our way through the brown beans and cabbage. And recounted the day God had given us. Mother could sit at that table when we were young and kiss it and make it all better. And when we got older she would lay that gentle hand on your shoulder in good times or bad……and with a tender pat remind you that “everything” was still alright. That will make a house a home quicker than you can say “faith, hope and charity”.
I reckon I won’t be back much anymore. There is no backlog now to stoke, no footsteps to creak the floor, no laughter rebounding down the hall. The silence seems so out of place, yet there is a peacefulness to it. Maybe I am leaving…..but I am not saying goodbye. None of us ever touched by those walls will ever tell it goodbye.
Charlotte Gave Me An Attitude Adjustment…….
Listen folks, I’m not responsible for everything I write! I get to talking and things just seem to come from out of nowhere. It’s an inherit problem when I’m trying to write and think at the same time. I casually mentioned that we had an ugly girl or two in town back when I was living down at the end of Stonewall. You’d a’thought I’d called the pope a Baptist!
Beth was the first to reach me. She lives in Tallahassee. “Have you looked closely at the picture beside your by-line? You ain’t exactly Robert Redford. You’re not even Beli Logosi! Jack Elam had better eyes than you! What happened to your hair? You been sleeping in that shirt? And you have the audacity to attempt a joke at the expense of your classmates. Look in the mirror big boy!”
Lucille in Kentucky didn’t take up so much of my time, “I’ve seen better cheeks than yours on a Dominecker hen.”
Brenda took a little different track. “Did you think about the feelings of those girls when you made those enigmatic, insensitive, irresponsible and archaic remarks? Do you realize you could scar them for life? How could you not consider the damage you could inflict? Obviously, all you use your head for is a hat rack!”
I don’t know Brenda. And I’ve never seen enigmatic and archaic used in the same sentence. I’ve got a working grasp of archaic but I have no idea what enigmatic means. And I don’t think anything I could write down in 2010 could scar one of my childhood friends for life—they already lived most of it!
And let’s talk about the “damage I could inflict” for just a second. Vicki Fields used to chase me down at recess and beat the ever loving dickens out of me. Now Brenda, that is inflicting some damage! Miss Booth would line the boys up on one side of the room and the girls along the opposite wall. We’d have a spelling bee. Boys against the girls! We had Bob Edwards, Jimmy Carter, Marlin Hicks….I’m talking some pretty smart dudes. We never won those things. Not once! Diana Morris could spell every word in the English language when we were in the second grade. That used to irritate the heck out of the guys…...and give us a complex at the same time. We’d have those foot races in the sixth grade and Judy Barksdale would blow by me like I was sitting still! Jane Hill wouldn’t go out with me when we were sophomores in high school. I begged her. I called her up at night and she’d hang up on me. I took to walking by her house, she wouldn’t come out. I offered to carry her books to class; she banged me over the head with them. It’s enough to make you sit and wonder just exactly who it is that has scarred whom!
I never went to church without Pam Collins, Ruth Ann Wiley and LaRenda Bradfield staring me down for something stupid I’d said in Sunday School. They’d make fun of my Buster Brown shoes or the grass stains on my carefully starched shirt. And those same girls could ruin a Roy Rogers picture show at the Park Theatre by giggling through two shoot-outs and a horse chase.
Just seemed to me boys and girls were on different wave lengths back in those days.
I remember when Charlotte Melton was named queen of the Dyer County Rodeo. I walked to her house to catch a ride down to the rodeo. She came out with her hair rolled up in those gigantic tin can type rollers. She, I supposed, was wanting to look her best when they handed out the crown. I didn’t have any sisters and was a mite taken back by the metallic glint and the size of the tomato cans atop her head. “Dang Charlotte, that face would make a freight train take a dirt road.” She whipped the stuffings out of me! In her front yard, with her parents standing there!
What a memory! And about the fifth or sixth time she smashed me in the face, a couple of those cans let loose, her hair fell across her face and you know what……she didn’t look half bad. With that sun behind her, she was even pretty. ’Course, I didn’t get much of a look; both eyes were beginning to swell shut.
Diana Morris spent hours, as we moved into our high school years, helping me with my homework. When I needed “dating advice” I’d go to Pam. Vicki would play pitch with me all afternoon. LaRenda and I actually dated for a week in the eighth grade…..until, I reckon, she got a good look at me. I’d comb my hair an extra lick before church, and then search inconspicuously for a seat close to Ruth Ann. I took a job at Jane’s father’s service station just so she could come around and ignore me some more.
We fought and loved and studied and gossiped and cried…..and danced when the music was right. No ugly girls here! They were the best friends I had for those special, memorable, impressionable, growing up years. Listen, you can’t be more beautiful than that! They have all contributed immeasurably to my life. And I love them more today than I did when we were taking turns reading about Dick, Jane and Spot.
And I also took note that none of them made a fuss, or even called, about the “ugly” comments. They understood. Heck, they are still laughing over me getting put out of the spelling bee in the second grade by missing c-a-r-t. You can’t fool those folks that grew up with you!
On further review, I don’t know if writing about them makes me archaic or enigmatic…….But it brings a smile to my face. I get to remember them once more. And appreciate again the absolute beauty in each one of them.
Brewer Should Have Given The Speech!
Pam Collins straightened my tie, “Remember when I beat the living stew out of you in Miss Belle’s class?” No, I didn’t remember! Miss Belle was way back in the third grade for goodness sakes!
“H, you remember kicking your shoe into the soap in elementary school?” Ricky Hale had been reminding me about that infamous kick for ten years now.
Charlotte Melton squeezed my hand and whispered, “Do you still remember the kiss out by the monkey bars?” I didn’t answer but my neck might have given me away.
The music saved me. And the hush that fell over the audience brought us abruptly to the moment. We had laughed and joked through this thing as Miss Polly tried to line us up for practice. This wasn’t practice!
We marched in as Billy Rutledge banged out “March From Aida” on the school’s old upright piano. Buddy Wiggleton had suggested “The Ubangi Stomp” but Miss Polly had the vote that counted.
Now that it was here I’m not sure we were ready. Oh, we’d been talking about getting out of school for a while. We felt we’d served “our time” in Mr. Berry’s chemistry lab. We bored our way through study hall up on the third floor. We had done the math graphs, the Canterbury Tales thing and we’d been on the front lines in every war from Hannibal’s elephant march across the Pyrenees to the “police action” in Korea.
We’d about studied out. We wanted to see how people lived outside the boundaries of our little town. Enough with this learning, it was time to live it!
Mr. W. O. Warren gave us that talk about “how we had laid the foundation” and this “was only the beginning” and we “could do and be whatever we set our minds to”. He threw in “future leaders” two or three times. I was thinking how long does graduation last—
An English pea or something like it hit me behind the left ear. I didn’t have to look around. That would be Brewer. Graduation wasn’t gong to keep him from having a good time. Those spit balls in Latin were his doing; although, I will admit to chunking a couple back at him when Miss Bouldin turned to write on the board. The paint on the water tower….that was also Brewer. The only reason I climbed up there was to haul a second bucket for him. He was right in the middle of the school food strike that might have gotten a little out of hand. And listen, I would have never “jumped” that train to Milan if he hadn’t a dared me.
We might not be as ready for the world as Mr. Warren was making it sound.
Folks had been asking me for weeks about my post graduation plans. I said college because I didn’t know what else to offer. And Viet Nam seemed to be the only other option. We just barely knew where it was in that May of 1965. But Walter Cronkite was bringing it into our living rooms nightly on his CBS broadcast.
I had a girl friend who was talking marriage. Brewer hit me with another pea. It was an exclamation point that marriage might ought to wait for a year or two. I thought we were ready to shake the high school dust off our Bass Weejuns but I wasn’t absolutely positive on it.
The best thing about high school was it was safe! We knew what to expect. It had a routine that was structured and familiar. Diana Morris was going to make a hundred on every test. John Ingram was going to out run all of us. Jerry Lewis was going to say something funny. Earl Lowe was quiet as a mouse. Billie Ruth Kirksey had the greatest smile….. But you couldn’t live your life stuck in second gear!
I loved Jane Hill, Paul Long, Graylene Lemonds, Reggie Lawrence….all of them! But there’s a world of people out there that we all needed to meet. They might be smarter than Diana, faster than John or funnier than Jerry! I would miss these guys. Even in the immaturity of my youth, I realized the specialness of this particular group. They had been my world for the past eighteen years. But none of us could afford to miss what was out there! We needed to try it.
As Mr. Warren’s talk wound down he repeatedly gave the school system credit for preparing us for life. My mind was off in another direction. O. K., Pam did beat the living daylights out of me in the third grade. But I got up! Bobby King would fake right and then shoot that left handed hook shot over me all day long. But I didn’t stop trying! Jimmy Carter was a math whiz. I studied a little harder to show him I could figure it out also. Kenny Butler, Don Melton, Vicki Fields, Bobby Jackson and I would choose up sides for a baseball game out in the back yard. We argued about the teams, the rules, who got to bat first……but we worked it out. None of us got our way all the time. Charlotte was the first girl to break my heart. Brewer taught me how to add a little extra fuse to the cherry bomb so you’d be a long ways away when it went off. He also showed me how to look innocent. Mr. Warren could be right, but I know in my heart I got a lot of help from some very special friends.
The village and the school system are important…..but you’d better get you a host of classmates that will push, pull, kick, harangue or drag you to the finish line. I don’t attend a graduation or see a mortar board or hear someone talk about “the leaders of tomorrow” that I don’t think of the 71 best friends that pulled me through.
Mexican President Kin to Them Atwood Boys!
This can’t be right! It’s a news media trick! Or a skit from Saturday Night Live!
The president of another country comes to America. He goes to Washington D. C. He stands up before both houses of Congress, singles out one of our great American states and then berates and belittles and accosts and accuses and criticizes said state in front of the whole world……and we don’t do nothing! Has Orson Wells returned? Surely it’s an episode from “The Twilight Zone”!
Yeah, I’m mad. And confused. And disappointed. And hurt. My heart aches.
And this has nothing to do with immigration, legal or other wise. Listen, I don’t care if Arizona is absolutely right……or absolutely wrong! That is way beside the point. It’s an American problem. It surely might have repercussions in other lands. But it is unfolding within the precious borders of THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
You let us handle it. Naturally, we will screw it up. We will get mad and fuss and argue and shout and air our “opinions” on Face the Nation, Larry King Live or Bill O’Riley. We will call out the National Guard, hire lobbyist, email our congressman and complain to the convenience store clerk. We will send Geraldo in to investigate. CBS will have a mini series out in a couple of months. Jay Leno and David Letterman with sort it all out on late night t.v. But it is our problem. It is serious and I hope we’ve got people working on it even as we speak. Our history says we’ve got to gesticulate a mite before we do anything. Think about states rights; and slavery, prohibition, women suffrage and the Teapot Dome scandal. We are still arguing over who sunk the Maine for goodness sakes!
I don’t even know the name of the President of Mexico. I respect his position in the world. But I do question his deportment and good sense. If he wants to make a statement about how we ought to do things let him get his own house in order. Don’t come to our country and insult us. Here’s how he can be a great influence on America. Make Mexico a model country. Get his own economy on solid footing. Put everyone in Mexico to work IN MEXICO! Out enterprise America! Make the best automobiles, TV sets, hydro electric plants, oil refineries, lingerie, dog collars, leather belts and ceramic coffee mugs. End poverty, class wars, drug dealing, gangs, discrimination, divorce court, malnutrition, kidney stones and people living on the streets.
You want to help. Lead by example! You get everything “fixed” in your own homeland and, I guarantee you, we’ll come around quicker than you can say Poncho Villa. It will take us a while to sort it all out. But you get it right and we’ll send a committee down there to see just exactly how you did it!
You won’t have to come to America and say a word. We’ll get the message!
We had a guy from New Jersey in an English class professor Abbott Martin taught at the University of the South back when I was fighting the college wars. He was as self righteous, dogmatic and obnoxious as anyone I’d ever been around. I formed an opinion of the whole state based on that one relationship. And I have been known to cast a few aspersions toward New Jersey as a result. Way up in the corner of Eastern Tennessee, the folks say “we’ins” and “you’ins”. What kind of talk is that? Rhode Island is too small to be a state. I get tired of hearing everything is bigger and better in Texas. Detroit natives say “rut” for root. And people in San Francisco can make decisions that baffle the mind…….
I can say anything I want to about New Jersey. They’ve got big shoulders. Besides, I’ve never met anyone from the Garden State that couldn’t “give as good as they got”. I can shake my head at the way they speak in East Tennessee. I was born in that state. Rhode Island will tell you great things come in small packages. I have been to Texas…..you know, it is pretty big. My Detroit friends made that 1960 Chevrolet that gave me some of the best memories of my life. We count California like you would the uncle or first cousin who was hanged for stealing horses.
I grew up with these people. I overlook their shortcomings……because they have overlooked mine!
It is all in the family. But buster, don’t you come over here and criticize one of our relatives! I’ll claw your eyeballs out! Charlie and Bernice Roberts are the only two people I know from Arizona. And they only live there part time. But I kinda like them. They alone, are worth fighting for. Ira Hayes was from Arizona. You say something about him and every Marine in America will come after you.
We haven’t got to solve the immigration problem overnight…..but we’ve got to correct this notion of letting indignant foreigners stand before congress and spout off any venom they choose RIGHT NOW! TODAY! IMMEDIATELY! If we don’t do that we’ve lost the ranch.
I can remember the summer them no-good boys from down at Atwood rushed up to our little town, dead-set on dating the local girls. It didn’t take us but about 10 seconds in that first booth out at Frank’s Dairy Bar to realize the seriousness of the situation. We elected Bob Cassidy and Roland Argo to go out there and put a whipping on them “interlopers” so as to send them scurrying back down Highway 79 with their tails tucked between their legs. It didn’t matter that most of the girls we were defending were ugly. They were our ugly girls! We drew a line in the sand just as quick as we could.
This wayward outburst from the Mexican President is the exact same thing!
Suffer The Little Ones……
The face was priceless. The joy and wanderlust fairly leaped from beneath his mop of dark hair. No Tom Sawyer here. But I believe I detected a hint of mischief. And any fool could see he was propped up, wide-eyed and eager to meet any challenges this world had to offer.
I guessed him to be four, maybe five. The truck went by pretty fast. I was trimming the hedge; like I’d done a hundred times. My mind on nothing, and everything. This hedge and I had been wrestling each other for thirty years. You invented ways to divert your thoughts from the monotony and the steady hum of the trimmer. Mostly I was just trying to finish.
I don’t know what made me look up. The white pick-up was halfway past when I saw him. His head wasn’t stuck out the window as much as it was perched in the midst of it. He was obviously on his knees, his little hands resting on the sill with his head lifted….his eyes sparkling.
I’ve never seen a child so alert to his surroundings. He was feeling the wind in his face, he was tasting the late morning air. And don’t quote me seat belt laws and safety regulations. This young man was experiencing life! If you could have seen those eyes! If we could all live with just a touch of that aliveness; a hint of the anticipation; the freshness with which he viewed each moment……what a world it would be!
I waved but it was too late. He had seen me. He had “experienced” my yard. He was already checking out my neighbors. I stared after the truck long after it drifted out of sight. What an incredible wonderful young man! And I had only seen him for a split second. I didn’t recognize him, his driver or the truck. But he encouraged my heart just by his shear joy.
Shoot, he didn’t see me as an old man out chopping on this hedge. He saw a warrior doing battle against an invading army, the Grinch seeking out his next round of Christmas gifts for his new friends in Whoville……or perhaps a Galataka starship captain rising up from the bushes with a rotating magnetic super blade flashing from his right hand. His world didn’t have the silly limitations that grown-ups can’t seem to exist without.
He wasn’t mad at a single solitary soul. He wasn’t jealous. He wasn’t saying one thing and thinking something else. His little heart was free of guile. He trusted automatically. He wasn’t disappointed in life. None of that half full, half empty stuff for him. His cup runeth over! Face value was all he knew.
How I envied him.
Dad’s old International was a distant memory for me. But I can remember leaning out the window, trying to spit past the running board. I remember the ride to town. Mrs. Brooks would wave from her front porch. The Hudsons would be playing in the yard. The two story elementary school looked so large. The sun would hurt your eyes it shown so bright. And don’t believe that small, one-horse town stuff you read about today. Our buildings were alive! The colors were varied and vivid. Everyone waved, nodded or smiled a greeting. The sights and sounds were magic!
I didn’t look. I drank it in. There is a big difference! My little heart beat faster as we circled the square. I was riding “uptown” with Daddy! “Hey Billy” I yelled. “Good morning, Miss Mitchum.” I checked the big marquee at the Park Theatre. I couldn’t read so good yet……but I could make out Tex Ritter’s name. It had to be a western!
Dad stopped in front of Bailey Moore Wrinkles’ Hardware. I climbed down out of that truck straight and tall, like I owned the world. And you know what, I did! I wasn’t worried about the next day, who had run off with the John Deere salesman from Dresden, Eisenhower’s pledge to help the southern planter in the boll weevil war or the price of eggs in China. We were just here to pick up some paint and a pound of nails. Life can’t get much better than that…… Unless, of course, we could stop by the City Café for a real store bought hamburger before we headed home.
Life demands that you grow up. It doesn’t say nothing about losing your zest, your sweet innocence, your wanderlust for new adventures……. Do you reckon we’re missing the boat here? I go to town now and wave only if someone almost runs over me. I get my air condition filter or washing detergent and race back to the house. When did the trip become so perfunctory that I missed Miss Brooks’ wave? Or didn’t see the Hudson boys? Or forgot to marvel at the size of the elementary school?
I eased off the trigger on the trimmer and peered back down the street. I was hoping the white pick-up might reappear. I wanted to wave and holler thanks. I wanted to tell that young man that I got it! I don’t want him to grow up to be like me……I want me to grow down to be like him!
Life is no less exciting because you’ve seen a mite more of it. There is no law against sparkling eyes at any age. Living should never be routine. I squinted up at the sky…..it was still so blue it would hurt your eyes. The wind kicked around me. Funny, I hadn’t noticed the freshness of it until just now.
I turned back to my hedge with a hum on my lips, a song in my heart and a smile that wasn’t so faded…… I’m not going to be out done by a five year old!
From One Lady to Another……
I stood over this one and thought, “The later they come, the better looking they get!” I didn’t mind the wrinkles or the red face. And it didn’t bother me that she never opened her eyes. She was the fifth. I was getting to be an old hand at standing over brand spanking new grandbabies.
I didn’t jump up and down, or shout. I didn’t pass out cigars. Nor did I start explaining to everyone within ear shot how beautiful this child was. They could see that for themselves! I congratulated my youngest son, hugged my daughter-in-law, quietly said a prayer of thanks…….and marveled once again at the grace, understanding and love of an almighty God.
Avery Lee Colbert is going to be a little different from the others. And very, very special….. Oh, she doesn’t realize it yet. And some have even kidded me gently about another granddaughter. She was the fourth girl. She couldn’t have possibly been anything else.
She was born April the 8th. My Mother turned 90 in the same month. It will be her last birthday on this earth. The years have caught up with her. This once vibrant lady who could “put her shoulder to the plow” or “gently brush away a tear” with equal aplomb has entered her final mile. I don’t know how God works. It is way beyond my finite mind to comprehend. But I know this to be the infallible, unerring, absolute truth of all truths—God somehow has heard my groan. Even as I struggle with the inevitable, as I prepare for the unpreparable, God has sent me a replacement!
I have one coming and one going. Life is precious at both ends.
And listen, this is not a sad story. Many daughters have done virtuously, but my Mother excellest them all! She opened her mouth with wisdom; and her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not of the bread of idleness. Her children arise up and call her blessed……
She didn’t run off and leave us when we were ten years old. She didn’t seek personal gratification, fame or wealth! She’d be picking those gravels out of my knee after a particular bad spill and the silent tears would be sliding down her face……for my pain! Leon rolled our ’51 Chevrolet over that embankment out on highway 22 and she didn’t judge, criticize or condemn. She thanked God he wasn’t killed and then sat up all night wiping the blood that kept oozing from the stitches Dr. Holmes had sewed around his eye. She never gave up on David Mark when he came home from Viet Nam a little on the wild side. I asked her years later how she didn’t go insane with some of our shenanigans. She quietly replied “I remembered the Word promises……‘and when they are old, they will not depart from it.’”
She stood by us through thick and thin. She loved us when we were sometimes hard to love. She’d put on a ball glove and play pitch with us when there was absolutely no one else. She’d get up anytime you’d say and fix a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And she forgave our transgressions way past that seventy times seven thing……
I can’t wait for Avery to get a few years on her. I’m going to take her back to the house where we grew up. I’m going to show her the big ditch where David fell through the ice. And I’m going to paint that picture for her of Mom, barefooted, racing down to us through the snow, swooping a frozen Dave up in her arms and out running the lot of us back to the house. I’m going to walk her up Stonewall Street toward town and when we get just to the hill by the Campbell house I’m going to turn her around and have her look back down the street. “When I was about your age, your great grandmother would still be standing out in the middle of the street, wearing that old red and white apron, watching to see if we were making it o. k.”
I’m going to read the silly poems out of the Childcraft books to Avery just like Mom read them to me. I’m going to tell her about those homemade biscuits from scratch and how Mom could wave her hand and make a full meal out of turnip greens and cornbread. Me and Avery are going to smell that vinegar at Easter. I’m going to teach her about hats in church, Buster Brown, throwing silver Christmas icicles up on the high branches, plundering in the attic……and a smile that never quit.
Just think of the blessing in store for the both of us! I’m going to make it a goal of my life to make sure Avery understands the gentleness, the wisdom, the inner strength and the abiding love that permeates a family in large degree because one lady set the example for us. We are “we” because of her! Now, there is a legacy that will endure through the ages!
My prayer is that Avery comes to appreciate, is influenced by and reflects some of the qualities of her great grandmother. The timeliness of her birth is not accidental, happenstance, coincidental or a fluke of nature. She was heaven sent!
And it is important for both of us to understand as life unfolds before us, when the going gets tough, the path a little unclear, the decisions a mite complex ……all we have to do is glance back down to the end of Stonewall. There will be a dark haired, beautiful young lady in a red and white checked apron watching over us to see we are “making it o.k.”.…….
You talk about Blessed Assurance!
Let’s Review The Tape, Then Fuss!
The first pitch was high and away. “Strike one!” the umpire bellowed. I stepped out and rubbed a little dirt on my hands….and glanced back. This wasn’t my day. And I had a history with this particular umpire. He tried to enlist me to play for a team he was putting together a couple of years before. I chose to play elsewhere. I was hoping he wouldn’t recognize me. “Strike two!” This time the pitch was way high and way outside. I stepped out again. And glared at him! The call wasn’t even questionable. He remembered me alright!
My Mother, brother and future wife were watching me play in college for the very first time. The tying and go ahead runs were on base for goodness sakes! And the at bat was being stolen from me! I watched a curve break over the middle of the plate. Surely after those first two horrendous calls, he’d even this up a little.
I stood there for a second, frozen in my tracks. What just happened couldn’t have just happened! I turned around, stuck my mouth in between the bars on his facemask and went berserk. I yelled, shouted, screamed, hollered and jumped up and down until Coach Carter got out there and pulled me off of him. I don’t remember to this day what I said. In two seasons of college baseball, it was the first words I’d ever had with an umpire. Those calls could have cost us the game. It embarrassed me in front of my teammates, coaches and family. Only my good looks and natural charm kept my future bride from bolting forever.
I felt like an idiot, but let me tell you, he was wrong! I wasn’t arguing without merit. I wasn’t trying to show anyone up, cause a spectacle or bring attention to myself. I just wanted a chance to say he missed the call.
I thought about that rowel just this past week when I read about the coach who was fined for questioning a referee’s call in his post game remarks. It happened to be an NBA game and apparently there is a rule against coaches criticizing, belittling or casting aspersions on the officiating. I thought “that ain’t right”. Look at the replay. If the coach had a legitimate beef, fine the referee for making a bad call.
It just seems to me that everyone needs to be responsible for his actions. If the coach makes enough bad judgments (unless he recruits extraordinarily well) he’ll be shown the door. I’m sure officials in every league at most every classification have standards and guidelines and levels of competency they must maintain. And if you watch a lot of slow motion replays, they certainly get it right more often than they get it wrong. I applaud their intelligence, their diligence, their fairness and their commitment to getting it correct.
But they are very human. They can miss a call. And I don’t mind that. I understand that. What I don’t understand is placing the arbitrator in some kind of an off limits bubble where they seem above the sweat, blood and tears of the action. You fine a coach twenty thousand dollars for “statements toward an official” and guess which one looks like he was wrong?
The Southeastern Conference is notorious for this. Unless you’re Lane Kiffin in his few minutes at the University of Tennessee, you can’t say a discouraging word about umpires, head linesmen, referees, another team, the home office or the color of the opposing mascot’s uniform. The guy from Florida (I can’t think of his name) mentioned that an official “might” have missed a call….opps, send in $30,000!
I’m not mad here. I have no ax to grind. And I’m not advocating that we all go around on the look-out for where we can take a critical shot. I’ve written too many “live and let live” articles for you to conclude that. I just think we all should be held accountable for what we do. If the coach calls a quarterback sneak on fourth and twenty-three from his own six yard line with one minute left in a tied ballgame, the field judge should be able to state afterwards that that was the dumbest call he’d seen in all his many years of refereeing. But if that same field judge throws a flag for holding in a key spot in the game when nobody was holding, then the coach ought to have the same leeway.
This ain’t rocket scientist stuff.
I write a bad article, boy howdy, do I hear about it! I’ve got a friend down the hall who frequently comes in shaking his head, “That was the absolutely worst story that I have ever read! Did you actually go to school to learn how to do this?”
I get cards and letters admonishing me to take up archery. Or get a plumbers’ license. I’ve had folks call in to remind me that I’m no Hemingway or Faulkner. My wife just covers her nose over a particular bad one. I written stories so uninspiring my dog pretended not to know me.
As much as I would like to, I can’t fine these people for being honest.
The SEC shouldn’t be allowed to either.
Don Simmons was umpiring a baseball game in Brenda Ellis’s backyard eons ago. Brenda lived on Stonewall Street, just down from us. He called a strike on me. This was a pick-up game of eight and nine year olds. I protested. He said, “The way you swing the bat, it won’t matter what I call.”
“Well, I could umpire much better than you’re doing with that blind eye you’re using…….”
We switched places. He hit for me. I umpired. The game flowed on, each of us with a better appreciation of what the other fellow was doing.
You know, there’s a thought for big-time sports to mull over.
Health Care “Down On The Farm”!
All this talking, posturing and focus on health care got me to thinking about Charlotte Melton. I fell in love with her when I was in the eighth grade. She lived even further out of town than we did! It was a pretty good hike up the Como Road, then down Highway 22 to get to the Melton farm. I walked it. Gladly. Charlotte was that pretty!
We’d saddle up and ride horses all afternoon. Charlotte, and a fireball of a horse named Pesky, Jr., had combined to win barrel racing trophies in every arena from Tupelo, Mississippi, to Berea, Kentucky. I rode the oldest, most gentle looking nag left in the barn. We’d sometimes stop and help Mr. Melton, who was bigger than John Wayne and tougher than Clint Eastwood. If he nodded to lend a hand, out of fear, I’d jump right in. I figured a little fence mending or hay hauling was a small price to pay for riding along with Charlotte.
I’d walk home with the sun sinking low over my right shoulder. And I’d eat my pinto beans and cornbread with a grateful heart because I was hungry and worn out. If Dad didn’t have much for me to do the next day, I’d mossy on back out to Charlotte’s. It was a good two miles from our house to the Melton’s. I was walking that sucker twice a day! If I was running late (we had to be home by sundown, no exceptions!) I’d sprint all the way to the house. We had a car. But it was not for frivolous use. Gas was twenty-five cents a gallon and Daddy wasn’t going to waste it driving me around to look at girls. There was a recent health campaign that was big on walking….. “It’s hard for a heart attack to hit a moving target”. We knew nothing about that in the summer of 1961. We did, however, play ball in every field where we could gather up a crowd. We’d race down that big hill over on Forest Avenue. We swung on grapevines across the ditch behind George Sexton’s house. We played hide-and-go-seek every night. We’d work in between clearing those big rocks out of Terry Brown’s cornfield or hoeing them long cotton rows for Mr. Brooks. And we’d swim most every day at the Twin Pools.
I spent my growing up days outside, in the fresh air, walking to most every place I wanted to go. If I was in a real hurry, I’d take the Western Flyer. My legs looked like a windmill in a hurricane as I pedaled up that little hill down by Jim Williams’ house. We walked, ran or bicycled out of necessity. Dad wasn’t going to “take us” and we couldn’t fly. Of course, it never crossed our minds that we were working on our long term health care way before it became fashionable.
We were just living large. And reaping more benefits than met the eye!
There seemed to be a balance back then. After Charlotte rode off into the sunset with that tall skinny guy I fell in love with Cynthia Wheat. Her mother made the best cookies. It was a pretty fair walk past Bethel College to get to Cynthia’s house over on East Cherry Street. I’d eat about six of those homemade sugar and molasses treats and then walk home. By the time I’d cover the mile back to the house I figured I’d walked off any effect the cookies had on my system. Natural balance……I’m not sure any of those late night tv health raconteurs are offering that today.
Leon thinks Jerry Lee Lewis helped. He’d come on the jukebox singing “Great Balls of Fire” or “High School Confidential” and the whole Dairy Bar would be dancing! You think Jane Fonda had a work out! I’ve seen Kent Wilson and Penny Barksdale shed ten pounds apiece in one evening trying to keep up with Jerry Lee!
It seems nobody got sick much. Now, you can say that I was young and just don’t remember. But I think there was more to it than that. We had injuries. Daddy broke his ribs once when a dogging chain flew back on him. And Mr. Martin split his arm from “stem to stern” when the hand crank on his old Farmal engaged before he was ready. Didn’t nobody go on disability. Or write their congressman. Or demonstrate for universal health care. Daddy grumbled about his bad luck and lit a fire under me, Leon, David Mark about getting
Major League In Every Respect!
It meant one thing to us down at the end of Stonewall Street.
We’d take about six throws and get the game started. We didn’t need much spring training in 1956. We played in the open field across the street. Or over by Bethel College. Or in Paul David Campbell’s back yard. Or out by the pajama factory. We didn’t mind a few tacks and the black electrician tape holding the bat together. The ball wasn’t perfectly white. We didn’t bother with uniforms, umpires or official scorers. We came to play!
I was blessed to have an older brother. And he was blessed with great friends. And they took pity on the tag-a-long little brother. That’s how I first got in the game! I wasn’t actually chosen, mind you. When Nicky Joe or Kenny’s team was one short, Jackie or Paul David would say, “take Kesley, he can play right field”.
I patrolled my assigned spot like my life depended on it! I heard every sound. I leaned in on every pitch. I knew Bobby C. liked to pull the ball. I’d move a couple of steps to my right. Jackie could hit to all fields and Leon swung from the heels. I played Jack straight-a-way and backed up a smidge when Leon was up. I can still smell the mix of clover, sweat and Neats Foot oil. I’d pull my cap bill down low, spit in my Revelation model glove and pretend to be Bill Virdon, patrolling the outfield for our beloved St. Louis Cardinals.
I wasn’t offended when all the fielders moved in when I stepped to the plate. And it didn’t bother me when the pitcher “took a little off” to give me a good chance to make contact. Listen, Einstein didn’t concentrate as hard when he was figuring on that Relativity thing! You just think Spartacus was bearing down against those Romans! I struck out a lot. And I hit a bunch of three hoppers right at the second baseman.
But folks, I was in the game!
You will never know how important that still is to me as I look back on it from half a century away. And I could care less about the “life lessons” of sportsmanship, team work, learning to share, give and take, etc. Listen, you try to block Bobby C. by sticking a foot out as he rounded third base on John Ed’s double up the right field alley and he’d show you some “sportsmanship”! He’d knock you out to the middle of Stonewall Street! And then glare menacing-like at you for the rest of the afternoon! I’ve seen some great fights break out over a close call at second. I’ve seen brothers not speak to brothers. I’ve seen Hatfield/McCoy type feuds born over who “got to be” Stan Musial for the day. Shoot, I’ve seen competitive tempers flare when we were choosing up sides.
We played for the pure joy of the game. The fun of running down a long fly; the thrill of a great hook slide; the sound when the bat made that perfect contact with the ball; the inward leap of your little heart when Bobby or Nick or one of the older guys nodded approval over your play. I’m telling you, the wind never felt so fresh; the sun never as bright; the sky so tall. There is nothing quite as exhilarating in life as calling time out and jogging back across the diamond to pick up your cap after you have drilled a triple off of Paul David’s garage.
The unlearned would think it silly. To still be in love with a child’s game. But the hours we spent, the joys we shared, the bonds we formed….. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t recall one of those guys……
I grew with the game. I can remember when they waved me in from the outfield to play short stop. A rite of passage took place. As the years went by I moved up in the batting order. I saw the left fielder ease back as I knocked the dirt off my tennis shoes. And I never looked up the mild spring morning behind the college when Larry Blackburn chose me with the first pick. But my heart did!
Life was good down at the end of Stonewall.
April marks the beginning of another major league baseball season. I’ll watch some games. I will still pull for the St. Louis Cardinals. And against the New York Yankees. I will check the stats sheets to see if Albert Pujois is leading the league in homers and RBIs. But a little of the professional side is getting hard to take. I’m tired of batters stepping to the plate wearing more armor than Sir Lancelot. Pitchers who take forever to let go of the ball drive me nuts. Owners try to buy winners. Sportswriters have an unbelievable urge to tell us which players are cheating on their wives, who is carrying a gun or who is on steroids. And I shake my head over the third string utility player who is holding out for six million bucks.
Hey, if Ricky Gene or Buddy had put some kind of rags around his arm for protection David Paschall would have drilled him right up side the head! If the pitcher didn’t keep the game moving, we’d find someone who wasn’t afraid to throw it! They ought to make team owners choose up sides each year. And we didn’t care who Bobby C. was dating away from the park. We all carried guns. Our steroids were a bowl of Wheaties and a glass of milk. And it wasn’t (as Shoeless Joe Jackson uttered in Field of Dreams) “I would have played for nothing”, we DID play for nothing!
We all dreamed for years of getting to the big leagues one day……and come to find out, we were already there!
Let’s Play Two,
He Knows Jaob from Moab!
Brother David Fernandez was, as usual, waxing eloquently last Thursday as he spoke to the noon day crowd gathered up at the Methodist Church. It was probably the umpteenth time I’d heard him speak at these special Holy Week Services. And it was of no consequence that this semi-retired Assembly of God pastor was holding forth at the Methodist Church. Brother Dave, bless his heart, can’t tell one denomination from another!
I was leaning forward as he half read and half quoted from the scriptures. I get the cotton out of my ears when he is speaking. I don’t know too much about God, and them angels, or that small hill they called Golgotha, or the One John (in between bites of honey and wild locust) kept telling folks was coming to rescue them. Brother Dave knows this stuff! And I’m convinced he’s got special insight into some things this world needs today just as much as those desperate souls needed it when Paul first pitched his tent at Philippi.
But we ain’t preaching here today.
The mind can be a strange animal. Even as Brother Dave encouraged us to servant hood in that kindly, Heaven-granted voice; as he pointed us to the same One that John had spoken about; as his nudged us toward being better neighbors…..a question rose in my heart concerning Reverend David A. Fernandez…...
Who, pray tell, is gong to preach HIS funeral?
Now, I’m not rushing things. It’s like I told him when I asked him to speak a few words over me when my time comes. “I ain’t in no hurry. Don’t start putting them passages together quite yet.” And don’t jump to any conclusions about Brother Dave. He’s not sick. I hope he lives to be three days shy of Methuselah’s record and I’m the last guy he sends home! I was just thinking about the times I’d sat in this same Methodist Church or at First Baptist or at Oak Grove or wherever and listened as Brother Dave thoughtfully, lovingly, caringly bridged the chasm for some heart-broken family between this world and the next.
Is there anyone out there who could do justice to him when his earthly race is over?
Listen, I went to a funeral in Perry, Florida, once. I complained all the way over there. It’s a hundred and thirty miles for goodness sakes! I didn’t even know the one they lay to rest! It was a friend of a friend. I wouldn’t drive a hundred miles if my wife died—
Brother Dave was the first guy I saw when we walked into the little chapel. Son of a gun! They don’t have any burying preachers in Perry? They’ve got to “send out” to “send them up” now? He had on that dark tie with the cross on it. I knew he meant business this day. And he stood up, in this foreign land, and gave one of the best messages I have ever heard on the frailty and uncertainty of this life versus the completeness and blessed assurance of the next!
You see why I’m interested in hiring him when my time comes. Shoot, I aim to pay him in advance. I want him to make me look a little better than I was! Wax some of that “eloquent” over me! I want him to get knee deep in the fourth chapter of First Thessalonians. Hey, and if I’m a little short on Holy points, it won’t hurt to have Brother Dave praying up there in front of the church for this poor departed soul. I’m figuring every angle here. I have reminded him faithfully over the past forty years to utilize a little “Ecclesiastical stretch” when he gets to my good points, if he can find one! And I’m trusting to his good demeanor to gloss over my impatience, bad temper and selfishness. He has promised to get up and say that I have never hurt anyone in his family….that he knows of! I’ve thought about writing a few things down just to remind him of my accomplishments here in this life. I’d hate to be the first guy Brother Dave got up to speak over and he drew a blank.
And I’m not saying that Brother Dave is perfect here. He has that Miami Hurricane thing. It’s his thorn in the flesh! And I have often wanted to ask Miss Myrna if he ever gets mad; or dejected by the acts of unkindness many of us perpetrate either willingly or thoughtlessly on our neighbors; or if, even once, he aimed his morning text at his board of elders.
He’s preached more sermons than Ezekiel and Jeremiah put together. He understands the depth of Daniel’s prayer life. He knows Joab from Moab. But I bet he doesn’t know how many funerals he has taken part in. And I guarantee you, he has no idea of the number of lives he has touched……
So I trust my thoughts as I listened to him last Thursday were not too out of line. And the question lingers with me still; who would be worthy to preach that funeral? It will be a short list! And I know what you good Christians out there are thinking, “He has already preached his own funeral by the way he lived his life on this earth.” Baloney! I’m not buying that! I’ve never heard Brother Dave sermonize much about us living in the past; or chortling over our own good deeds. He’s too caught up in how we are living right now, today!
He can’t rest on any laurels. I am going to hold him accountable until Jesus comes! I want to see how he runs the rest of the race! I’m going to watch him closely……and if I have any good sense left, I’m going to emulate him in every way possible.
That couldn’t hurt when my final moment comes.
More Horrible Than Any Shakespearean Tragedy