Monday, January 31, 2011

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED HORSE

Starting in my sophomore year sometime, I began to gather a group of kids up at the church parking lot almost everyday to play basketball with Larry and myself.  The kids were usually younger than us making Larry and me the stars of each team.  We played through the summers and through the winters taking a snow shovel along with us to scrape off the court if it was covered in snow.  Not a lot stopped us from playing ball.  On my first wedding anniversary I found myself at the church playing ball with the kids not realizing the importance of that particular day.  Basketball was foremost in my mind when I was younger and when I had free time, I was at the parking lot shooting baskets.

Larry had a deadly outside jumper and I was good from within ten feet with a hook shot that seldom missed.  I based my shots on that of two ball players that I watched on television consistently.  Lew Alcindor (Karrem Abdul Jabbar) and Jo Jo White were my idols along with Larry Drew.  These players were pure shooters and I felt like I did a fairly decent job imitating them.

When the kids weren't around to play, Larry and I played one on one a lot.  It was a pretty even game most of the time and it gave us a chance to polish up on our already awesome skills.  We were good and we knew it.  We could take the ball and drive or pull up with fade away jumpers and hit them well over fifty percent of the time.  When we played one on one we went at each other with everything we had.  There was no sluffing off when we played.  It was a matter of pride for either of us to beat the other in a sweat filled game.

It was one of those afternoons when we were playing one on one and wearing each other out when we saw a figure dribbling a basketball come walking towards the court.  We were both in our early twenties and we had control over that court anytime we wanted it.  The kids around the place knew that we would let them play eventually if they arrived during a game of one on one.  As the figure grew closer to us we stopped for a second.  It was someone we had never seen at the court before.  It was a girl dribbling that ball and she looked to be about a junior in High School.

She arrived at the court and watched us play a bit.  When we got to a stopping point and sat to rest she began shooting some short shots and layups.  We began talking to her and found out she was a sophomore at the school.  She loved basketball she told us but she seldom had anyone to play with.  Larry was the one who offered ourselves up to her.  He asked her if she wanted to play a game of HORSE and after she thought a bit she said sure, why not.

HORSE is a game where you have to match another players made shot.  If you miss the shot you receive a letter beginning with "H" and continue until you have all the letters to spell horse, then you are out of the game..  We shot around a bit with her as she warmed up.  I swear I didn't see her put up anything outside of ten foot and both Larry and I were feeling pretty confident when we began the game of HORSE.

We let her shoot first and she did a simple layup with the left hand.  No problem for me and Larry and we duplicated her shot.  She then began putting up some small jumpers from the ten foot range.  Again no problem.  None of us were missing any shots at all.  She went to running underhand layups which again did not cause either of us to gain a letter.  She was playing it safe to keep control of the ball I figured.  As long as she did not miss a shot, it was her shot that had to be duplicated.  It was starting to look like it was going to be a long game.

Then it happened.  She calmly set herself up about twenty five feet from the basket and let it fly.  The ball fell through the hoop with a swooshing sound indication it hit nothing but net.  A perfect shot. Larry and I looked at each other.  It could have been a lucky shot but no matter we had to match it.  Larry matched it with no problem while I clunked it off the front of the rim.  She moved around to the side of the hoop and let fly a twenty footer that again swished through the net.  Again I missed and earned the letter "O" to add to my "H".  Larry hit this one as well but I was thinking we had been had.  She stepped back to about thirty feet out and again threw up a perfect shot.  I missed again and Larry joined me this time.  The rest of the game she stayed out between twenty five and thirty feet pumping in jump shots like the hoop was twenty feet wide.  I don't recall every hearing one of her shots hit the rim.

It did not take me long to be put out of the game when I earned my "E".  Larry was closing in fast on me though.  He was making better than fifty percent of the shots he was matching to hers but sooner or later, Larry would roll one of the side of his fingers giving him another letter.  It wasn't long before she put up a tremendous thirty five foot shot that Larry clunked off the back of the rim earning him his "E" and ending the game.

She thanked us for letting her play and started to walk off.  We wanted more information on the school girl who had just kicked our butts.  Turns out she was a ball player on the girls junior varsity team at the high school.  She was a guard that had been working on her shooting to try to get a starting spot on the team.  Neither me or Larry could understand why she wasn't starting and she explained that there was a girl on the team, a senior, who was a really good shooter.

It caused me to shudder thinking that girls were getting this good at basketball.  She had whipped us and whipped us good.  I talked to Larry that evening about possibly hanging up my sneakers after that embarrassing display against a high school girl.  Not just a high school kid, but a girl.  She never came back to play that I remember but I know if she had, I would have done everything I could to get her on my team to play against the guys.

A valuable lesson was learned that day and one I try not to forget.  No matter who you are, there is always someone better, sometimes it is even a girl.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

LEGEND OF FALLING ROCK

The Ozark Indian tribe roamed the hills in southern Missouri for hundreds of years.  One winter day one of the women of the tribe was about to give birth.  As she went into labor in a cave in the Ozark hills rain began to fall.  It was a heavy rain that began to wash away the soil above the cave.  Just as her baby was brought into the world a landslide came crashing down in front of the cave bringing rock and soil down in a rolling cascade.  The Chief named the newborn babe "Falling Rock" because of the timing of the birth with the landslide

Falling Rock did not have a very successful boyhood..  As he trained with the other young boys in the tribe to get the title of Brave he consistently came up short.  They were beginning to think there was no hope for him.  As he grew older he met and fell in love with a girl from the tribe named Running Deer.  They were very much in love but Running Deer's father did not approve of a marriage for his daughter with a boy that couldn't ascend to the title of Brave.  Falling Rock's father thought that the marriage would be a good thing to bolster the confidence of his son and help him finally achieve the title of  title of Brave.  The marriage was reluctantly agreed to and the couple were married on Falling Rock's eighteenth birthday.

Soon Falling Rock and Running Deer had a son.  The son was looked down upon because Falling Rock was not yet a brave.   The other families began to shun Falling Rock and his little family.  They were considered to be at this point what we would call today leeches or hangers on.  Falling Rock was not allowed to go on the hunting expeditions with the others because he had not achieved that lowest of titles.  He still was not a brave..  The required those that went on the hunts to be classified as braved because there were white men out there wanting to take land and food from the Ozark People.  They could not afford to have one who had not proved himself out on the trip because they would end up trying to protect him instead of fighting for their land.

When Falling Rock was twenty five, his wife's father declared the marriage unfit and took Running Deer and their children away from Falling Rock.  Running Deer was Married to a younger man in the tribe who had achieved Brave status and took all of the little wealth that Falling Rock had managed to accumulate away from him.  Soon Falling Rock found himself on the outside, living on the edge of the tribe with no one acknowledging he even existed.  He would eat what was cast out of the rest of the tribe or occasionally adventure out on his own to try to hunt for food.  Eventually he became well enough of a hunter to sustain himself  and he tried to become a brave once again and once again he failed.  It seemed like life was not meant for Falling Rock.

One day a group of white men came across the small Ozark Indian village.  They ran through the town killing all they could and taking some of the women.  Falling Rock was off in the trees outside the village and he watched the whole tragedy quietly.  Deep inside he knew he could get in on the fight but as he watched he knew that his presence would not do any good.  He watched in horror as Running Deer's husband was shot and felled.  He watched as Running Deer was beaten with whips until she was not moving any more and he watched his young son trampled by horses until his life was gone.  When it was all over the village stood in ruin with no sign of life at all.  Falling Rock fell asleep and dreamed a terrible dream about his wife and son the fate that they had met.

He awoke and went in search of the white men.  His mind was on fire.  He had lost all control and lost all sense of right or wrong.  He found his first white man cooking over an open flame and immediately creeped up behind hi and slammed his head with a tomahawk.   He began just running through the woods and any white man he came across was killed on the spot.  His anger was such that he was finding he could take on up to four men at a time and dispense of them.  He was on a mission to redeem his wife and his son.

Soon the white man began to build roads and small towns began to pop up in the southern Missouri hills.  Falling Rock decided that he would take as many as he could.  He would lay in wait on the side of the road and then kill any white man that came traveling down the road.  Soon he became legend.  He seemed to be all over southern Missouri, constantly on the move going from town to town and killing white men outside of town on the new roads that were being built.

The name of Falling Rock became very well known throughout the State.  Eventually the Missouri Governor decide to post warning signs on the roads for unaware travelers.  In spite of the warning sign the killings continued to happen.  The killings began to slow down as the highways began to be built and cars were driving by fast on the roads that Falling Rock use to pick off his prey on.

It had been one hundred and fifty years since the massacre that destroyed Falling Rock's village but he still seemed to be getting his revenge.  Every once in a while a car would stop for the driver to rest and a body would soon be found by the highway patrol.  A car would break down and reports were that an old Indian would come out of the woods offering to help fix the car only to kill the unfortunate travelers.  The old Indian would almost vanish into thin air after the revenge was taken.

The tales said that it was the ghost of Falling Rock doing the killings.  He was still trying to get his revenge and still trying to become a brave.  The stories live on even today in southern Missouri.  People are warned and few take it seriously.  You can still see the signs on the highway.  Big yellow diamond shaped signs that simply say, "WATCH FOR FALLING ROCK".  So if you are driving in south Missouri and see one of these signs, beware because chances are that Falling Rock has been their before and has killed there in the past.  What ever you do when traveling through the Ozark Hills, watch for Falling Rock.

Author's Note:  This story is inspired by a tale told to me by my grandfather about the legend of Falling Rock.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

LET ME CALL YOU SWEETHEART

I can still hear the reedy whine of my great aunt Margaret singing the old song with her arms outstretched following my aunt Sue and myself around grandma's house.  She seemed to enjoy kids a lot and liked to play with us in her own way.  We liked Margaret.

Margaret was my grandfather's youngest sibling.  She had suffered an illness which brought with it a very high fever leaving Margaret with a damaged brain and epileptic seizures.  She was raised by her mother until she wasn't capable of handling Margaret anymore.  In spite of all her problems Margaret was very social.  She could carry on a conversation and was very aware of things and events around her.

If we had known of a checker tournament anywhere I would have insisted that she enter it.  She was the best checker player I ever saw.  I don't ever remember seeing her lose a game and I know I certainly never was capable of winning against her.  Checkers was something that Margaret saw in a way that most of us don't.  She knew the game and she knew strategy.  Think about the game of checkers.  Pretty simple, right?  I feel that we think of checkers as a simple game because the rules are so simple that most people don't give a second thought as to strategy in the game.  The game seldom lasts more then five or ten minutes and in my experience the player who makes the first move has a distinct advantage close to ninety percent of the time.  This was not the case with Margaret.  She would play the game with the precision a master of chess would play chess.  It was an incredible thing to watch.  She always wanted to play checkers and a lot of times the nature of being a kid takes over and you tire of losing to her every single time.  She would plead for a game of checkers and usually Sue or I would give in and put ourselves and our pride in the hands of Margaret who would surely beat us every time.

Margaret never knew a stranger.  While riding in a car with my grandparents, she would start talking to the people in the car next to them while stopped at a red light.  She would start the conversation and occasionally some people would answer her and talk a bit.  Occasionally she would exclaim out the car window that she was being kidnapped or some other thing.  If ever there was proof of my grandfather's patience, Margaret was it.  She was also proof to the limits of my grandfather's patience.  There were times when I saw him lay down the law on Margaret because it needed to be done.  It really wasn't any different than what he did to his kids while they were growing up or to his grandkids as we were growing up.  Grandpa did have rules and everyone was expected to abide by them.

As much as Margaret use to play with us and irritate us she never scared us.  She was a loving soul deep inside even if she did not have the capacity to show that love all the time.  Her way of showing Sue and myself how much she thought of us was by wanting to play with us.  Then there was that one day when Sue and I were probably under ten years old that sticks out in my mind about Margaret more than any other time.

Music was always a part of family life whether at our house or at Grandma and Grandpa's.  Grandpa would break out in song once in a while and he would take my grandma by the hand and dance in the living room while he sang.  Every once in while, if you were lucky, you would be there when he talked grandma into singing a verse of an old song.  Grandpa knew a lot of old songs and if I remember correctly earlier in the week of the day in question he had been singing "Let Me Call You Sweetheart".  Apparently Margaret like the song and picked up on it.  It was mid-morning and Sue and I were supposed to be doing some chores around the house when we heard Margaret start to sing that song.  We kind of giggled a little and suddenly Margaret was in the living room with us and she was smiling and pointing at us as she sang.  She continued to move toward us, "Let me call you sweetheart, I'm in love with you..." and she started to reach out her hands as she got closer.  That was the only part of the song that she knew so it became almost a mantra as she sang the opening lines over and over again.  Sue and I got tickled and jumped up and started to run away from Margaret as she continued to sing with a huge smile.  Grandma's house had a natural track built into it.  You could run from the living room through a tiny hallway into the kitchen turn into the dining room and head back into the living room.  I have no idea that morning how many laps we took as Margaret continued to sing to us and follow us being sure never to catch us.  I am not sure she would know what to do if she did catch us so I figure she didn't catch us on purpose.

It was a fun fifteen or twenty minutes though.  Sue and I enjoyed it as much as Margaret did.  We were all having a great time until Grandma finally showed us the limits of HER patience and told us all to settle down and rest.

Grandma then suggested, "Why don't you play some checkers?"  Margaret looked at the two of us and smiled a very large smile.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

UNCLE DUANE

My life has been blessed by a group of uncles that are all different but all worth looking up to for one reason or another.  On my paternal side of the family, Uncle Duane made a very large impact on my life.  He was a soft spoken man who always spoke very wisely.  He was a minister and his personality fit his role in life extremely well.  I remember him as caring about others all the time.  I would hear him inquire sincerely of others how they were feeling, how certain things were progressing with them and in his special voice and his eyes there was no doubt that he was totally sincere.

He always seemed to have time for his nephews.  He would take time to talk to me when I was very young and listen intently.  I always felt that when I was talking to him, whether I was six years old or twenty years old, he took what I said seriously.  I remember one Christmas when we were gathered at my Grandma Clark's house for dinner.  I had been given a little plastic guitar that year.  He was sitting on the piano bench  looking around the family gathering when he saw me sitting on the floor strumming mindlessly on my guitar.  He called me over to him and asked me about the new toy.  He wondered where I got it, if I liked it and asked me if I wanted to him to show me something on it.  He proceeded to show me how to play a couple of simple chords on that little plastic thing and he praised me when it seemed I had learned from him.  As far as he was concerned I was a smart little boy and there was not a doubt in my mind that he enjoyed that guitar as much as I did for that short ten minute period of time.

We would visit Uncle Duane and Aunt Velma on vacation.  They had a daughter the age of my oldest sister and another daughter the age of my next oldest sister.  No one my age  was there but Uncle Duane made sure that I had some one to visit with.  He would bring out things to show me and to talk about with me.  One year he brought out a little tape recorder.  It was the old tiny reel tape recorders that would hold maybe twenty minutes of sound on them.  We spent a whole day almost playing with the recorder.  He would record me and play it back, then record my little brother and play it back and sometimes would record all three of us at one time.  I think he was as amazed at the technology of the time as I was amazed thinking this recorded had some magic built into it.  It was obvious that he was having as much fun as I was during times like that.

During part of his life he worked at a gas station in addition to his ministry.  One day when we were visiting his family he took me to work with him.  We got up very early and went to the gas station where I helped him open it up and get displays set up outside for the days business.  This was back in the days when gas station attendants actually pumped the gas for the customer as well as wash the window and check the oil and tires.  When ever a car pulled in Uncle Duane and I would walk out to the car to see what the customer wanted.  At one point during the day Uncle Duane was filling a car up and was in the process of washing the windows.  I was standing next to the pump and decided to walk around the car to go watch him at work.  My mistake was that I walked under the gas hose that was pumping the fuel into the car.  The nozzle came out of the car and splashed gas on me.  Uncle Duane saw this happen and told me to go was my hands while he finished up with this customer.  I had gas in my hair, on my clothes and everywhere else it seemed.  After the customer had left he checked me over to see if I was okay.  It suspect that it didn't take him long to figure out that I was a lost cause as far as cleaning me up.  Somehow he made sure I got back to his house where I was bathed and given a clean set of clothes.

The thing about this incident is that it shows what kind of a human being this man was.  He did not get upset.  He reassured me that accidents do happen.  He calmly explained what I did wrong so that I wouldn't make the mistake again and he never broached the subject again.  It was in the past and no harm had been done to the gas station or to me.  He then allowed me to go help him again.  This was the kind of man he was.

He was caring.  He was sincere.  He was kind.  He was an uncle that any kid in the world would be more than lucky to have.  I always looked forward to seeing Aunt Velma and Uncle Duane.  They were special and their visits were special.  When I heard that Uncle Duane had become ill it saddened me a lot.  When Uncle Duane died it added to the growing hole in my life that started forming when my other Uncles had died.  I loved the man.  I never told him that I did.  Big mistake on my part.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Baby Grand - Ray Charles and Billy Joel

Late at night
When it's dark and cold
I reach out
For someone to hold
When I'm blue
When I'm lonely
She comes through
She's the only one who can
My baby grand
Is all I need

In my time
I've wandered everywhere
Around this world
She would always be there
Any day
Any hour
All it takes
Is the power in my hands
This baby grand's
Been good to me

I've had friends
But they have slipped away
I've had fame
But it doesn't stay
I've made fortunes
Spent them fast enough
As for women
They don't last with just one man
But my baby grand
Will stand by me

They say that no one's gonna play this on the radio
They said the melancholy blues were dead and gone
But only songs like these
Played in minor keys
Keep those memories holding on

I've come far
From the life I've strayed in
I've got scars
From those dives I've played in
Now I'm home
And I'm weary
In my bones
Every dreary one night stand
But my baby grand
Is coming home with me

Ever since this gig began
My baby grand's
Been good to me

Baby Grand - Ray Charles/Billy Joel Video

Monday, January 24, 2011

PIG FARMING

Big Al use to play for the Kansas City Chiefs.  He was a big offensive guard for the team and was well respected in the old American Football League.  Whenever I watched a Chiefs game on television, I would look for number sixty on the field protecting the future Hall Of Fame Quarterback Lenny Dawson.  Al played in the very first Super Bowl in which the Chiefs lost and he would retire before the Chiefs went back to the fourth Super Bowl.  I always wondered whether he regretted retiring as he watched his Chiefs pound the Vikings in Super Bowl IV.

After retiring from football Al tried to fulfill some of his dreams.  One of those dreams was to be a farmer and as I entered into my teen years Al was starting to raise pigs.  He seemed to enjoy raising the pigs and he had a nice little place way out in the country where he kept them.  He and his family did not live out there but Al was out at the pig farm constantly.

Al had worked out a deal with some of the other local farmers that would benefit both.  After the corn farmers would harvest their corn there was always some corn that the combines had missed.  These ears of corn would lay out in the field and rot away or become meals for crows and other scavengers that the farmers did not want to invite onto their land.  The deal was that Al would go through the fields after harvesting and pick up the stray ears of corn and then feed them by hand into the combine.  The resulting grain would then be carted off to Al's pigs for feed.  A true American coop in action.  You scratch my back and I'll scratch your.s

Al had a lot of other more important things to do than to walk around a corn field stacking old corn ears into piles and then feeding them to the combine.  He figured he could get some kids to do it and pay them a slightly larger then extremely small wage for their work.  After talking to his wife he came across three names that she had developed a relationship with at her church.  These boys were dependable, hard working and honest.  These boys were Ronnie, Scott and myself.

Al approached us about the job one summer day and we happily agreed.  All of us could use a little extra money to buy music and extend our collections.  So early one summer Saturday the three of us walked over to Al's house for the trip out to the country.  It was to be harder work than we imagined.

Al dropped us off at a large cornfield.  He demonstrated what the first step was to be.  Each of us would take a row in the field and walking together pick up any ears of corn and throw them into a pile.  Al would be back later to wrap up this field before we went to the next.  By noon we had walked through the entire field and had dozens of piles of corn ears ready for Al.  When we saw Al he was driving a big green combine which he stopped at the edge of the field.  He came over to us and told us that as he drove the combine up towards a pile of corn we were to pick up the corn and toss them into the sharp teeth of the combine which jutted out about six feet in front of the combine cab.  We were warned not to get too close when we were throwing the ears of corn into the teeth or we just might loose a hand.  By the time we got done with the field we had all become fairly good at tossing the corn into the teeth of the combine from a safe distance.  When the leftover corn was all in the combine, Al drove us up the highway in it to his little pig farm.  We were then to take shovels and clean out the back of the combine into a shed he had built to store the corn in.

As we rested our backs after the corn was finished, Al would proceed to let us watch him feed the pigs.  It became apparent that a person does not want to be between a pig and his food.  Those pigs were large and strong and could rip a young teenager into shreds without thinking twice about it.  When the day was done the three of us were exhausted but we had earned enough money to buy some records.  Al told us it would be the same drill the next Saturday and we agreed before walking home to rest our backs and our bodies.  I don't think I had ever worked as hard as I had on that pig farm that first day.

The next Saturday found us in a different cornfield.  We slowed down the pace a bit from the week before but still worked consistently and made progress.  After we had gotten all the corn picked up and piled we sat to eat our lunch while waiting for Al.

It was Scott who first spotted the bull on the other side of the fence.  It is a pitch black bull with horns and it had been watching us.  The fence that protected the bull from Scott was barbed wire with an electric wire strung across the top of it.  Scott decided that this would be exciting and made a bet with Ronnie and me that he would go over and try to touch the bull.  To Ronnie and myself this did not sound like a very good idea but coming from Scott neither of us were surprised.   Scott was a risk taker who enjoyed doing things on the spur of the moment.  The more crazy the task the more Scott liked the idea.  It was with little trepidation that Scott climbed between the strung barbed wire and into the field with the bull.

At first things looked Pretty good for Scott.  He was walking slowly towards the bull and the bull was eying him with a lot of suspicion.  Then Scott went crazy, or seemed to go crazy in mine and Ronnie's eyes.  He started waving his arms and heckling the bull, daring it to came get him as he walked closer and closer to the animal.  Ronnie and I just looked at each other and shrugged our shoulder's.  It was Scott, what else should we expect.

Suddenly the bull seemed to have had enough of Scott's antics.  It turned and start walking towards Scott then started to pick up speed as it began to gallop.  Scott turned and started to run for the fence with a small yell emoting from his throat.  Scott ran as fast as he could and when he got to the fence decided to jump it.  All three of us forgot about the electric wire running across the fence.  When Scott arrived at the fence he put on hand on a fence post and the other one square on the wire.  It did not make a sound but Scott yelling suddenly turned into more of a yelp.  As Scott land on the other side of the fence I looked up at the bull.  The bull was slowing down apparently pleased that the intruder had left his field and had gotten stung while doing so.

We checked Scott's hand to see if it was okay and there wasn't a burn on it.  The jolt was just enough to make his spine tingle and made his hand feel like it had fallen asleep.  As we sat down to calm our nerves from the close escape Scott had just pulled off we heard a voice behind us.  It was Al.  He apparently had arrived just as Scott was going over the fence.

He asked Scott if he was okay and then looked at the corn field.  Time to start chucking that corn into the combine he said.  We got up and followed Al over to the first row of corn.  Al didn't say much about what he saw and he never mentioned it to any of our parents but as he climbed up into the cab of the combine he said with a little chuckle, "That was about the stupidest thing I have ever seen and I have seen some stupid things".

We did about three more corn fields for Al that summer.  We never saw another bull in an adjoining field but I doubt if Scott would have been up to challenge another bull if we had.

The Inspiring Story of Al Reynolds Grandson - Worth looking at.

Friday, January 21, 2011

101 BLACK MEN AND ONE WHITE KID

The summer before Brett was to start his years of High School it was beginning to look like his baseball career was coming to a close.  He was going to be attending a small school his freshman year that only supported the sport of basketball.  They were good in basketball getting invited to Columbia to play on Mizzou's home court in the finals of the state championship several times.  The sport was so big that Brett even tried out for, and survived the cuts, to become a member of the freshman and junior varsity teams.

It just so happened that the year Brett was to be a Freshman at Hogan the school decided to spread out into other sports.  The school was growing and they decided to field a football team and a baseball team that year.  Brett wasn't sure if he wanted to play another year of baseball and he received no pressure from me to do so.  It wasn't easy but I backed off and let him make his own decision.  Finally on the day that tryouts for baseball were to begin Brett decided he would give it a shot.  He went out and immediately became the starting second baseman for the very first Hogan baseball team and I let go a huge sigh of relief knowing that I would get to see him play more baseball.

He had a good year with his glove and at the plate.  He was third on the team in hitting percentage and first in on base percentage.  As his father I will admit I was more than a little proud.  The team as a whole did not fair very well.  They were playing well established baseball programs and most of the kids on the Hogan team had come to Hogan to play basketball.  There were even a few that had never played organized baseball before.  Brett became one of a few players that ended up helping the coaching staff explain strategy to those boys who did not understand it.

The coaching staff was a very good.  The head coach loved baseball and passed his enthusiasm to a bunch of kids who were losing almost every game by a wide margin.  When that first season of baseball came to a close the team had won just two games.  One of the coaches had plans for some of the kids during the rest of the summer though.  Duane and his friend Melvin were putting a team together to play in a fairly tough league in south Kansas City.  They had most of the pieces of the team together before the Hiogan season was finished.

The one spot they had a problem at was second base.  They currently had a kid playing second that had such a quick glove and strong arm they wanted him to play at third base.  The problem was that they didn't have anyone to step into the second base position.  That is why Duane approached us about Brett playing in the league.  They had a good sponsorship and it would cost Brett practically nothing to play ball for the summer.  Brett decided that he would do it.  He liked coach Duane and enjoyed playing under him.  Duane told us to have brett at Clark-Ketterman field at about six thirty one Tuesday night.  We agreed and the rest of Brett's baseball career was set into motion.

We were at the ball field a little early that first Tuesday night.  Duane had told us what field we were to meet him at and so we staked out a position on a picnic table close to the field.  We started watching players arriving and soon came to notice something.  There was a team arriving that wore shirts with their sponsor emblazoned across the front of the jerseys.  The sponsor was an organization of men that helped inner city kids have something to do to instill pride in themselves and to give them adult guidance to steer them away from all the problems that every kid faces these days.  The group called themselves "101 Black Men" and they did do a good job following through on their mission.  As we watched the two teams assemble it became apparent that one team was almost totally made up of white kids while the 101 Black Men team was totally made up of black kids.  That isn't too surprising you may say but a thought creeped into our minds. Duane was a black man.  His friend Melvin was a black man.  Maybe we had the wrong field?

That thought was dispensed with when Duane and Melvin came walking up to us.  Melvin told Duane to get the kids started warming up while he took Brett back to his apartment to get him a uniform for the game.  Brett and Melvin were gone about fifteen minutes.  When they came back Brett was quite a sight to see.  The pants of the uniform he was sporting were at least ten sizes too big.  He had a belt cinched up so that his waist was skinny but the pants ballooned out like a clown outfit. The shirt was too big as well so it was just hanging on his small trim frame.  He looked like a total clown.  He was my clown though and so I didn't make any comments about the uniform Melvin had supplied him with.  Melvin said he would get him a better fitting uniform by the next game.

Duane saw Brett arrive and told him to get out to second base and moved the current second baseman over to third.  This was what Duane and Melvin had been waiting for.  Now they felt like they had a solid infield with everyone at the position they would be best at.  Brett looked quite at home with his new teammates.  He didn't even seem to notice the words glaring from his chest.

For Barb and I it was a proud moment.  Not only the fact that Brett was wanted on a team and that he was good enough to be wanted.  It was the fact that no one on that team, not Brett, not his fellow ball players, not his coaches, not the parent's attending the game seemed to notice that one of these things were not like the others.

Brett would play for Melvin and Duane for the next three years playing from early spring until late in the fall every year until his baseball career came to a quiet end and he began to pick up softball playing for the church.

Looking back it was quite and a scene that all of us including the coaches, the parents and the other players would forget.  A team of eight young black men with well fitting uniforms that showed off their struts of confidence and then that second baseman out there.  I short little white kid with a pair of clown pants billowing out from his waist sporting a jersey way too big for him with the bold words "101 Black Men" written across the front of it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I SEE THAT I CAN SEE

The year I was in the third grade was full of events and situations that I will probably write about in the future.  It was a time of learning that I could think for myself and express myself even though my thinking would often not be received very well.  I was doing fairly well in school and my grades reflected that I was learning things.  I was starting to play baseball for the cub scouts and seem to have no problem hitting or fielding,  except for becoming bored or having to have an occasional bathroom break while I was out in centerfield.

One of the biggest changes in my life occurred that year.  I had my eyes tested.  I am not sure if the school did the testing or mom took me to get them tested but the result was that my eyesight was less than perfect.  I was to become a bespectacled four eyes.  I was not too pleased at the concept of getting glasses but I heard them assure my mom that I would not need to wear them all the time, just when reading or sitting in school.  The thought of sitting in school with glasses on was not pleasant news for me.  I could not find an upside to wearing glasses.

As the test was being given I felt fairly confident that I was giving all the right answers from the eye chart.  They said read line 5 and I would look and rattle off a few letters and numbers.  Either I was looking at the wrong line or I was mistaking letters for numbers and getting everything wrong.  Glasses should improve my school work and help me in other areas of life.  It should make reading more enjoyable although I was already reading and having fun doing it.  Books were one of my best friends then just as they are today.

After failing the eye test I was taken to a doctor to get my eye prescription.  It was the first time I had a glaucoma test and the little puff of air caught me totally by surprise.  Never again would I be able to sit still waiting for that little puff of air to hit me.  Then i was told to look through this contraption to get my eyes so they could see.  It looked like something out of an Orson Wells novel. The doctor would switch the lenses around and ask me which one I could see better out of.  To be honest I don't think I could tell a difference between one or the other.  I still have that problem today when having my eyes checked.  I feel like I am taking a test and the pressure is on to give the right answer.  It is like taking a true or false quiz that is filled with trick questions.  Pretty soon I found myself just guessing which one was better or not.  It was intense pressure indeed trying to answer the simple question "this one??? or THIS one."  I wanted to tell them that I have no idea but that was not an option.  It had to be one or the other.

The day I got my glasses was one of the major turning points in my life.  I still remember it fairly clearly to this day.  They were not snazzy stylish glasses.  They were brown plastic with clear plastic on the bottom side so they would bother me less when I was reading.  I had already accepted the fact that the glasses would change my young yet handsome face for years to come.  I kept telling myself that I don't have to wear them all the time, just in school and when reading.  It was not much solace.

As they slipped the glasses on my face in the store I didn't notice much difference.  I could see the mirror and the man sitting in front of me.  I could see mom clearly just as I had before.  The thing I didn't realize was that all of these things were within five feet of me.  I did not have the forethought to look past what was right in front of me.  I didn't notice that I could see the wall across the store crystal clear.  I did not notice that I could read little signs on desks that I probably didn't even know were there.  I just didn't think these glasses were going to make much difference. Then came the moment of awakening.

We walked out of the store and my mind was flooded with images that I had not paid much attention to before.  I could see a billboard across four lanes of traffic and read the words on it.  All of the colors of the outside world were suddenly vivid and bright.  Images on signs and store fronts were sharp and clear.  I could see people and make out their faces quite a distance from me.  This was amazing to me.  It was a whole new world opened up before me.

Even though I had permission to take them off because they were meant to assist me in reading and seeing the blackboard at school I knew that I would never take these wonders of science off of my face.  It was a world I had not known existed.

Since that day I have worn my glasses everyday of my life.  I have broken more than a few pairs and had to replace them.  Glasses and basketball don't always go well together.  My eyesight has changed over the years to the point where I wear bifocals now so that I can read and still be able to see the television.  The only time I take them off with consistency is when I shower or go to bed.  Otherwise they are a fixture on my face and have become part of my personality.

I didn't notice that it helped my baseball game any or that my grades improved any at school after I got them.  Actually as time progressed my grades began to slip as I entered high school but it wasn't the glasses fault.  I could see everything written on the blackboard.  I feel like my reading sped up a tiny bit after I received them.   The biggest change though was just living in the everyday world.  Being able to read the scoreboard at Municipal Stadium.  Being able to read signs along the highway on trips.  Probably the most wonderful thing was that I was able to see nature in crisp clear detail.  Trees were more beautiful in both the spring and the fall.  It was like stepping into a wonderland full of surprises.

I would never look at the world the same way again.  Things became clear to me.  I learned a lot through the ability to see.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I DISAGREE WITH GEORGE CARLIN?

If you know me at all or have been following this blog over the last couple of months you probably have come to the realization that I am a huge fan of George Carlin.  Carlin would take a simple observation and give it a spin that made you stop and think.  There were those who came before him such as Lenny Bruce that inspired Carlin and those that came after him who Carlin inspired for example Bill Hicks and Lewis Black.

I love Carlin's philosophies and how he laid it out in what seemed to be perfect logic.  I loved the way he would look at the human condition and exaggerate it until it was so outrageous that a person would start to wonder if humans really were that bizarre  I found it as astonishing to me as you probably are finding it that I disagreed with Carlin on a few things.  So Mr. Carlin, wherever you are, give me a listen and a chance to explain.  By the way I have a pretty good idea of where George may be in the afterlife and I pray that I never get the chance to meet him in about twenty years or so.

Carlin was performing one of his classic HBO specials one night when I heard him lay down the law that "white people have no right to play the blues."  He went on to lay down a scalding blast aimed towards John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd for their Blues Brothers act.  I understand where he was coming from as far as the Blues Brothers were concerned.  Not only were they playing the blues as an act instead of seriously, but Ackroyd had opened up a "House of Blues" club that was suppose to give blues artists a venue to perform their art.  It is like calling Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" real news.

No one knows when or where the blues started but it was probably on the front porch of some old black preacher in southern Louisiana. I can picture the old man having lost his wife to a disease and finding himself in sudden loneliness took leave of his church to travel around the south sharing his great lost love in the form of song.  Certainly there was a time in which the blues were written and performed by people who were writing songs from broken hearts and broken lives and performing them with all the heart felt sadness that enveloped them.

Robert Johnson came on the scene as probably the first well known blues singer.  Legend has it that Johnson had sold his soul to the devil in order to be able to play guitar with the skill that he had acquired.  It is said that Johnson never let anyone actually see him play guitar but always had his back to the audience in the clubs or the recording studio.  If the legend is true then Robert Johnson probably most definite had a good reason for singing the blues.  He died at the young age of twenty seven.  There are many stories about how he died but  as far as I know, none have been established as the ultimate truth.   Perhaps he did sell his sould to the devil and the devil came calling for his soul at an appointed time.

George Harrison wrote in one of his songs that "You got to pay your dues if you want to sing the blues and you know it don't come easy."  This was the point that Carlin was trying to make.  White people had not payed their dues.  I am sure that as privileged as the white race has been in this country in our history, there have been some white people who have paid their dues.  The black race does not have a monopoly on misery.  Hank Williams music was loosely based on the blues.  His songs are gut wrenching and full of heartbreak and sadness.  Like Robert Johnson, Hank died very young at the age of twenty nine.Could the devil have come back to harvest another soul?  Possible I think.  Carlin wrapped up his monologue by saying "It isn't enough to know which notes to play, you have to know why you are playing them."  I agree that in a short moment of musical history that this was probably the case.  That time has passed.

To me the blues have become a musical style instead of a cry for mercy as it was in its early days.  There are blues singers of every race and gender.  I do believe that to be a legitimate blues singer, you have to be able to feel the words and the notes from your heart.  Todays blues performers, the good ones, have a way of bring this sense of lost souls to their music.  B.B. King, Albert King, Buddy Guy along with Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Gregg Allman and others seem to have this deep understanding of the music and the words.  They are able to pull it out from deep inside of them somehow and give us true blues in their performance.  Coincidentally, Vaughn died at the an early age as well when he was thirty five.  Perhaps the devil does have an important part that was played in the development of the blues.

The problem I have with Carlin's thinking is that he took the Blues Brothers and cast a net over a whole race of people excluding them from performing a certain style of music based solely on their race.  That is just plain not right and one of the few mistakes in the Carlin philosophy that I have found.

Everyone gets the blues.  Everyone should be able to express it once in awhile.

Monday, January 17, 2011

LARRY IN TRACTION

Larry is a good friend of mine.  We met through church activities and became very close because of what we had in common.  He was almost two years younger than me but just a years difference separated us in school.  He was a big kid standing almost six feet and two inches and had a broad stocky body that made him a fairly good commodity on the pick up football and basketball games we would play with other kids from the neighborhood.  He wasn't a real fast person but quick enough to shove his way down the lane in basketball or dump a defender from trailing him in football.

We walked to school together everyday of our high school years.  We would leave early and arrive at school about a half hour before classes start to have some donuts and coffee that the special education class sold in the cafeteria every morning.

The build of Larry's body gave him problems.  His back was not very flexible as long as I could remember.  It never stopped him from throwing up a beautiful arced jump shot from twenty feet out though and he would hit them with tremendous consistency.  He seemed to always walk with a little hitch in his step as his back refused to flex enough to make his motion smooth and easy.  Still he never complained and kept attacking life on a daily basis.

There came a time during his sophomore year that the back finally gave out.  I am not sure if it was a slipped or compressed disk but suddenly the pain began to increase in his back.  He reluctantly went to the doctor to see what was going on and to his horror the doctor said he would have to be off of his feet for about a week and in the hospital.  This was going to throw a big wrench into our summer plans of playing basketball almost every night.  My girlfriend, Barb, would welcome the news in her own subtle way because it meant that I would have more time to spend with her instead of spending time on the asphalt of the church parking lot shooting hoops with Larry.

When Larry entered the hospital he was but seventeen years old.  The drawback to this was that he was put on the pediatrics ward of the hospital.  Not only was Larry confined to the hospital, he was confined with a bunch of little kids that took to wandering around and visiting with other kids during their stay at the hospital.  To make matters even worse, Larry was to be in traction for that week.  He was bed ridden with a series of ropes and knots attaching his back to some pulleys at the foot of the bed with weights hanging off the end of them.  It was not a very comfortable situation and not surprisingly, Larry was in a rather sour mood during this week of traction in the hospital.

I went to visit Larry a few times during that week in the hospital and during the time I spent there several kids would wander in the room.  Larry knew most of them and had made friends with the little ones who found Larry to be a nice man who happened to be the biggest and oldest person on the ward.  Most of them would come bay just to tell Larry hi and then leave to continue their socializing rounds among others more their age.

On The Saturday before Larry was to be released from the hospital I went to visit him.  As we were sitting there watching some baseball on the television a new kid walked in.  Larry had never seen him before and neither had I.  It was clear he was a patient at the hospital because the little six year old was wearing a robe and slippers that looked like they belonged to his dad.  HE was the kind of child who liked to ask questions and he began string questions together one after another.  What's your name?  How old are you?  Why are you on the kid's floor?  The questions kept coming at rapid fire speed and was starting to irritate both Larry and me as the kid continued his interrogation.

Larry and I began to drop hints that maybe the kid should be back in his room.  The nurses could be looking for him.  What if his mother came to his room and find him not there.  We tried everything but nothing would dissuade the boy from continuing his questioning.

Then it happened.  The boy was standing at the foot of the bed while I sat in a chair up next to the head of the bed where I could talk to Larry and see the television.  We saw it at the same time.  The kid reached down and picked up the weights that were pulling on Larry's left side.  Both Larry and I processed the situation at the same time and came to the realization that something very bad was about to happen.  We were both trying to get the words out of our mouth's to tell the kid to leave those weights alone when he looked at us and asked, "What are these for?"  As the word "for" left his lips he dropped the weights.  Larry's reaction was almost instantaneous.  He was expecting the pain, had prepared himself for the pain in that extremely little space in time but when the weights crashed down and stretched his back further than ever intended, Larry let out a yell.  I jumped up to lift the weights to relieve the pain a bit but it was too late.

The kid was startled by Larry's reaction.  He stood there for a second as Larry first yelled, then started cursing between deep breaths that his body had been shocked into.  The last I saw of the kid, he was leaving Larry's room, walking slowly backwards and trying to figure out what had just happened.  A nurse came in and I explained what had happened.  Very calmly she told Larry not to worry, it probably didn't do much damage to which Larry responded with a few more choice words.  He was definitely in pain.

We never saw that kid again and the incident did not extend Larry's stay in the hospital.  The nurse was right in the fact that it had not done any damage to what the traction had set out to accomplish.  Larry's back was more flexible after that and he moved with more of a swagger instead of the old stiff walk I grown accustomed to seeing him with.  After that shock of pain, I never heard Larry complain about pain again.  I guess nothing he would feel in the future would ever compare to the weights being dropped to stretch out his back for an instant.

Larry looked for the kid when he was discharged, but apparently the kid had gotten well, or had fled to another jurisdiction.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

MY FIRST SEAT BELT

I began my academic life in nineteen sixty two at a little two room school that sat out on the edge of country living at the time.  There was one big white house in the area that sat upon many acres.  They had horses that would come right up to the fence on the school property line.  It was one of four schools in the school district that all looked the same.

It was my year of kindergarten.  The word "kindergarten" is German for Children's Garden.  I guess that makes sense even though there was not a garden on the grounds of the school.  My school went by the name of "Rockford".  I have no idea who Rockford was but I do remember having a little white sweatshirt with blue letters across the chest spelling Rockford out.  At that time kindergarten was only four hours long instead of the full days we make kids attend now.  It was a time of learning to socialize.  It was a time of learning things that helped continue to fill the knowledge amount in your small growing brain.  Small science experiments would amaze you like magic.  Numbers would suddenly achieve order.  Letters would become works of art as you learned how to construct each one with your pencil on a Big Chief tablet.  By the end of the year these letters would be put together to form small simple words that had meaning.  It was a wonderful time of learning.



There were two classes in that little school and the teachers would take every opportunity to teach you something new.  Curiosity derived from lack of experience always seemed to bring up questions from us.  Looking back a lot of the questions were common sense but at the age of six, common sense isn't what it becomes when you are older.  Common sense to a six year old is basically knowing right from wrong.  You don't steal, you don't hit, and you don't lie.  If you don't know the answer the teacher is not going to berate you in front of the class as they do when you are in the higher grades of the public school system.

I had this six year old common sense.  I was raised to have it and to act upon it.  Looking back at the times of sibling battle where hits were to happen often at home and where a little lie to keep you out of trouble seemed almost a necessity, doing it at school seemed like it was out of bounds.  It is one thing to lie to save your skin, quite another to lie to a teacher who was making magic apear on the black board on a daily basis.

One day, one of the teachers drove her brand new car to school.  It had a new gadget in it that had just been developed to save lives.  She started telling us about a thing called a seat belt.  The seat belt was suppose to hold you in the car seat and keep you from flying through the windshield in case of an accident.  She talked about the seat belt for a while giving examples of how they would save us.  She told us how she believed they would be in every car from now on and that we should accustom ourselves to using them, although it wasn't the law that you had to.

The seat belt was only in the front seat because that was where they believed most of the injuries occurred in a car collision.  She wanted every one to witness the power of the seat belt so that when we would ride with our folks we could encourage them to buckle up and we would gladly do it ourselves.

She then asked a question that would be one of my first humbling and embarrassing moments in my school
life.  She asked how many of us have used seat belts.  I looked around the class and saw a few hands go up.  One of the hands was my friend Doug's who parents always seemed to have a new car.  Another hand was that of Becky, a cute girl that lived around the block from me.  I had always liked Becky and for some reason I wanted her to know that I was as much up to date as Doug was so I shot my hand up in the air.  The teacher was very pleased that so many of us had experienced the wonder of the seat belt.

Later that day as we went out for recess she called us all together.  She said that since we were limited on time those of us who had not tried a seat belt were welcome to line up and take turns strapping ourselves in to her front seat and trying out the new contraption.  My mind began to race at once.  I had already said I had used a seat belt but now I really wanted to see what it was about.  I hung around the line of kids waiting their turn trying to decide if I should get in line or not.  Maybe the teacher had not seen my raised hand.  Maybe she would be so busy explaining how to use it to each and every kid she would forget she had seen my hand.
I decided it was worth a shot.  I slid over to the back of the line.

Recess was almost over when it came my turn to sit in that brand new car and buckle up.  She looked at me and I knew right away that she remembered.  She questioned me about raising my hand in the class room and I said, "well, yes but it had been so long I had forgotten what it was like".  Looking back on it I know that she saw right through me.  She knew I had lied and I did feel a little bad about it.  Not bad enough to accept the fact that I had blown my chance of trying the seat belt out though.  My curiosity was much stronger than my guilt.  She said okay and helped me to get in the car.

The seat belt back then was like the ones on airplanes now.  They strapped across only your lap and it snapped into itself.  You had to adjust it to make yourself securely fastened in.  Once I was fastened in I tried my best to lurch forward and hit the dash or the windshield.  These things really worked.  I was tied into the seat and I wasn't going anywhere until she unbuckled me and let me out.  As I got out it seemed like she wanted to talk to me about something but she drew back and let me go on my way.

Now we look at seat belts as a must in a car.  Laws are in place that require all cars to have not only front seat belts but also seat belts in the back.  Instead of just going across the lap they now cross over our shoulder holding your whole body in place.  They have come a long way in the technology of safety in cars.

The lesson I learned that day was not one of safety though.  It wasn't a lesson of the future and how this new device would effect my life as I grew older.  The lesson I learned that day was to be myself.  Sometimes if you try to be someone or something you aren't you can lose out on an opportunity to learn or to experience something that is a wonder to each individual when it is discovered or invented.

Rockford is no longer there.  Even though the big white house is still there, the acreage around it is home to a large Junior High School that I would attend many years later.  Longview Lake is across the road from where Rockford use to be and I drive by the location on a consistent basis.

I learned that it is much more fun and much more important to be yourself then to try to be someone you aren't to impress others or win favor among peers.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Imitation - Poem by Edgar Allan Poe

IMITATION - Edgar Allan Poe
A dark unfathomed tide
Of interminable pride -
A mystery, and a dream,
Should my early life seem;
I say that dream was fraught
With a wild and waking thought
Of beings that have been,
Which my spirit hath not seen,
Had I let them pass me by,
With a dreaming eye!
Let none of earth inherit
That vision of my spirit;
Those thoughts I would control,
As a spell upon his soul:
For that bright hope at last
And that light time have past,
And my worldly rest hath gone
With a sigh as it passed on:
I care not though it perish
With a thought I then did cherish.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

PLAYING PIANO FOR SPECIAL PEOPLE

I don't claim to be a very good piano player.  I play well enough to get by and to receive some enjoyment from it.  I began taking lessons when I was around the third grade in school and fell in love with the idea of playing music at once.  I never could play by ear and I never learned how to play chords on the piano.  I learned how to play what was written.

My first piano teacher was a preacher's wife named Billie.  I can't remember the last name but she was a good teacher.  She was patient and understanding and would spend as long as it took to learn a lesson until the lesson was learned.  Then she moved on to the next one and showed the same patience all over again.  I remember learning how to recognize the notes on the written page and soon began to realize I could play about anything.

My next teacher was Anne Allard.  Not so patient this one.  I was at a point in my ability where I should be able to learn a song and play it the way it was written.  That "way it was written" was what caused some friction between myself and Mrs. Allard.  I had discovered that I could take shortcuts in my playing and make the music sound decent and play at a better tempo by omitting some notes that were written down.  If I had heard a song before, I could pick up the melody from the score and then fake the left hand notes by dropping some of them and sometimes all of them.  This did not sit well with Mrs. Allard and the fact that she was demanding I play the music the way it was written did not sit well with me.  I wanted to play so I enjoyed it for myself, not so others could necessarily enjoy it.  It wasn't long before my piano lessons stopped while I was learning a new instrument called the French Horn for school band.

My parents had bought an old used piano that use to be in a bar somewhere for us kids to practice and to play on.  My sister was an excellent player and she tended to play songs that mom and dad would enjoy like "The Missouri Waltz" or "Red Roses for a Blue Lady" kind of thing.  I wanted to play  the popular music of the times like Three Dog Night or The Beatles and even some Alice Cooper.  In my mind these songs were meant to be played with a bit more volume than Elaine played her mushy music at.  This did not sit well with mom and dad.  Many times I was told not to play so loud or at all.  Soon I became a musical recluse, playing only when I was by myself.

Barb and I were recruited to form a children's choir at church.  I was to play piano for the kids while Barb taught them the songs.  I was okay with this because I didn't think I would be playing in front of anybody but the kids and the kids didn't care how well I could play.  I would start each session with the kids by playing some rock song for them out of my music books and I could play it as loud as I wanted.  Our room was far away from the church services so nobody cared.  Barb continued to teach the kids and when we changed churches, she started another kids choir.  The first months of her choir she used a tape recorder as accompaniment for the kids to sing to.  This worked out because they would use the tape when the kids sang in front of the church.  All was well.  I was not playing in front of anyone and Barb had her choir.

Then came a time when she didn't have a tape for a song and she asked me to help her teach the kids by playing the piano.  I agreed and a whole new generation of non-caring kids heard my piano playing.  This was fine until Barb decided that the song she did not have a tape for would be sang in front of the church.  I would have to play in front of people.  I did not want to, but it was going to be on a Sunday night so the crowd would be small and I told her I would.  I was nervous that night and did not play very well even for me, but there was someone in the congregation that night who liked my talent.  Her name was Martha and after church she asked me if I would play piano for her Sunday School class.  MY immediate response was a big no.  I don't play in front of people.  I am not comfortable with that at all.  Then I learned about Martha's class.

Martha taught Sunday School to a group of adults from a nearby home for the mentally handicapped.  I went in and sat in on a few of her classes and realized that these people were bright and eager to learn.  They also loved to sing and truth be told they did not sing very well.  I thought about it and I could see myself playing for these new friends of mine.  I told Martha yes, I would.

The list of songs we played and sang did not change much.  They knew the songs from memory so it was difficult for Paul, who led the singing for the class, to throw in many new songs.  Basically I would go in there and play the same ten songs or so every week.  My playing was appreciated and was not judged.  They loved having the piano to go with their singing.  My playing was not much worse than their singing so we made a good fit.  If I missed a day they would be upset and grill me about my absence the next week.  Once Barb came in to talk to me while we were getting ready for Sunday School and a few of the students got upset with her.  She was to leave the piano player man alone and the shooed her out of the room.

My playing for that class made leaving that church a difficult decision but it was something I had to do.  Church politics in the church was causing a conflict within myself and Barb and I felt it would be best for us to move on.  So I left the church and left my friends in the Sunday School Class behind.

I haven't played in public since that time.  I was never more comfortable playing for people than I was for that special group of people.  They did not care how loud I played or how soft.  They did not care if I made mistakes.  All they wanted was to enjoy the music.  That was the same thing I wanted.  I wanted to just enjoy music and enjoy making music with them. Now I find myself playing when I am home alone again.  I like it that way.

I miss that time I played for them.  I miss them.  Never again will I play for such a great group of people.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

WRECKING DAD'S CAR THE FIRST TIME

I had spent years riding with fear as my mother took the wheel and drove us around while dad was at work.  Not that she was a bad driver but she sure wasn't as good of a driver as dad or as I thought I would be.  I recall watching her run a stop sign when I was much younger and she was so blind to that stop sign that she will tell you to this day that there was not a stop sign to be run.  Trust me.  She ran the stop sign.

I was use to dad's overly relaxed ways behind the wheel of a car.  He would slouch in the seat and drive with one finger on the steering wheel.  He would drive with one hand while holding a hot cup of coffee in the other.  The coffee wasn't in a travel mug, just a regular cup from the kitchen.  As far as I can remember he never spilled a drop.  That was the kind of driver I would be.

After I turned sixteen I went to the license bureau and picked up my learners permit. There wasn't much a kid could do with a learner's permit since you had to have a licensed driver in the car with you whenever you drove.  Usually that meant that every time I drove somewhere mom or dad was in the car riding shotgun. It was fun for a couple of days but after that the independent streak in me began to get a little anxious.  I knew that I could drive.  I had been watching one of the best drivers ever in my dad for years.  I knew all the little tricks and the stuff that you can do while driving to make you look cool.

The first time I took the test for the actual license I failed.  Everything was going pretty good.  I had remembered to fasten my seat belt which was a totally new thing for me.  I remembered to adjust the mirrors before putting the car into gear.  I even remembered to look behind me before backing out of the parking space.  Things were going very well at first.

Even though it was torture driving the course at a terrifying twenty miles per hour, I resisted the urge to drive as I normally would.  Then the unthinkable happened.  The officer giving the test suddenly asked me to pull over and come to a stop which I did.  He then looked me square in the eye and asked me if I had seen that stop sign at the last corner.  Stop sign?  I most certainly did not see a stop sign, if I had I would have stopped.  Sounded like a trick question to me so I answered in the negative.  I was sure he wasn't expecting the answer he got and he would allow me to finish the test.  It turns out that in the state of Missouri, if you commit a driving violation while taking the test they are obligated to fail you.  So I had to drive back and pick up mom and tell her that I had not passed due to running a stop sign.  I don't think she laughed out loud but I am sure she was on the inside.

A few weeks later I took the test again and passed with flying colors.  Not even the parallel parking would hinder me from finally gaining the freedom I had so much desired.  I was at last set loose on the roads of Kansas City and I was eager to go out on my own.

That night we were having a little family get together at mom and dad's.  My aunt Sue was there with Grandma and Grandpa and a couple of my uncles.  There was an errand that needed running so my aunt Sue and I begged to go get whatever needed getting.  Dad was the one who gave in and handed the keys over to me.  Shortly Sue and I were on our first adventure together since riding the trains to Springfield when we were little.

As I was driving I guess we got a little silly.  I slid down in the seat and slouched and tried to drive looking just over the top of the steering wheel when suddenly the car made a horrible sound and shifted to the left a bit.  I rolled the car to a stop and looked in the rear view mirror.  There were a few people standing in the street next to a parked car.  I had hit a parked car the very first time I was out on my own.  I backed the car up and saw that I had put a tiny dent in the fender of my dad's car next to the head light and the tail light of the parked car was shattered.  I had no idea what to do.  I told the people I would drive home and get my dad and be right back but they threatened to call the police if I left the scene of an accident.  They were not very nice people or very understanding.

This being in the days before cell phones I had to beg to use their phone to call home.  They finally relented and I called home while crying my eyes out.  Dad said that someone would be there shortly and that I should just wait.  While Sue and I were waiting these people poured heaps of insults at us and my driving ability.  It was not a fun wait.

Suddenly I saw a welcome sight.  My Uncle Buster's car was pulling up with my dad in the passenger seat.  Dad could be a little forceful but my Uncle Buster was down right intimidating.  While he was a caring man who would give the shirt off his back to help anyone, he also did not put up with a lot of stuff.  When he got out of the car the people turned their abuse towards Dad and Buster.  This was a huge mistake as Buster immediately took over the situation and started to tell the people how this was going to go down.  Soon Dad and Buster had the victims calmed down and under control and insurance information and phone numbers being exchanged the way it should be.

After all was said and done Sue rode back with Buster and I rode back with dad driving the car.  I was sternly lectured and questioned about the events and soon found out that I would have to be a little more careful in my driving antics in the future.  When we arrived home I went through the whole question and lecture thing with mom.  The questioning lasted longer with mom than with dad but it eventually ended none too soon.

I was grounded from driving for a while losing my hard fought for freedom with one little mistake.  I also learned a valuable lesson from that night in relation as to how important it was to be aware of things going on around you while you are driving.  I learned the lesson so well, that in future wrecks I would not be at fault.  Well I was at fault in one other wreck after I was well into my forties.  I may write about that one day but suffice it to say that the second wreck that was my fault was really the cars fault.  The old Chevette that I would get from my dad some twenty five years later was a wreck waiting to happen.

If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out - Cat Stevens

Well
if you want to sing out
sing out.
And if you want to be free
be free.
'Cause there's a million things to be.
You know that there are.

And if you want to live high
live high.
And if you want to live low
live low.
'Cause there's a million ways to go.
You know that there are.

You can do what you want.
The opportunity's on.
And if you find a new way
you can do it today.
You can make it all true.
And you can make it undo
you see.
Ah
it's easy.
Ah
you only need to know.

Well
if you want to say yes
say yes.
And if you want to say no
say no.
Cause there's a million ways to go.
You know that there are.

And if you want to be me
be me.
And if you want to be you
be you.
Cause there's a million things to do.
You know that there are.

If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out - Cat Stevens Video

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

BIMBO GETS BRIAN

Bimbo was my sisters dog.  You would never know it was hers though because when it came to feeding and watering him, it usually fell on me or my little brother.  He was blind in one eye and by far the dumbest dog I have ever come across.  There was a little Brittany in him from the liver colored spots on him.  I always figured he was ten percent Brittany and ninety percent dumb mutt.  He weighed about fifty pounds and was a good dog to play with.  He would grab the football by the laces and go running away playing keep away from my brother and I while we were trying to play a little football.  He would try his best to get the baseball from us and take off running.  More than one cover was chewed off of baseballs during his time with the family.  Dad use to get irritated but we eventually had a new baseball to play with.

He was a dog that got in the way more often than not.  Since he was a big dog and my mother does not particularly care for big dogs he spent most of his life outdoors in the elements.  He had a covered porch to sleep on though so as far as I knew he never complained.

Guts was a football drill that Coach Allard use to run us through all of the time.  It was designed to improve on tackling skills for one player and for running skills for the other.  The playing field was all of six feet wide and you were not allowed under any circumstance to go outside that six yard area.  The two individuals would stand about ten feet apart, one with the football and the other waiting.  The player with the football would take of running within the six foot area at the defender whose primary job was to stop the runner in his tracks and plant him as deep into the ground as possible.  When playing this little drill in the back yard with the brother, I always preferred to be the defensive player.  You could inflict a lot more pain that way and I was always looking for ways to do physical harm to my brother.

One summer day we were outside with Bimbo playing guts and having a rather good time.  I was consistently pounding him into the ground and was feeling pretty good about it.  Our neighbor Brian came walking over from across the street.  He was a scrawny little kid my brothers age.  He was friendly and we had some good times with him but on this day we just wanted it to be the two of us pounding on each other over a football.

Brian came up to the gate and started to talk which slowed the game down terribly.  He did not want to play guts with us.  I think he was afraid of getting hit too hard.  I know that fear and I had felt that fear before.  I do not like pain either which was why I enjoyed playing guts with my little brother so much.  Both of us decided that we did not want Brian to interfere with our game and so we tried to bring up excuses on why we couldn't play with him.  They were pretty lame excuses because how can you tell someone that you can't play when you are out there playing.

Brian eventually left and we continued our game.  It wasn't long before Brian was back at the gate of the fence though asking if we wanted to play some basketball or baseball or something.  We did not.  And so the excuses continued to be made.

Pretty soon Bimbo awoke from his afternoon nap on the porch and came up to the side of the house to see what was going on.  He was interested in the football and on getting in on the tackles after they were made.  He would watch, wait then jump on the two of us as we lay sprawled out on the ground.

Brian did not like Bimbo.  He was a little afraid of him and wouldn't come in the back yard because the size of the dog intimidated him a bit.  As Brian was standing at the gate. Bimbo walked slowly over towards him.  As Brian stood there pathetically begging us to come into the front yard to play Bimbo began sniffing around.

Suddenly the need for excuses not to play with Brian on this day disappeared.  Bimbo deliberately lifted his leg and let go a stream of urine that hit Brian about thigh high and soaked one whole pant leg of his jeans.  Brian cursed a little under his breath before accusing us of making the dog perform the act intentionally.  He then turned and stormed across the street to his house.

I felt bad later on about not playing with Brian that day.  It wasn't a very nice thing to do and we probably should have included him in some sort of activity.

We liked Brian, just not on that day.  Then again, Brian wasn't smart enough to take a hint while the dumbest dog in the world could get it and give Brian the ultimate "get lost" message.

Monday, January 10, 2011

George Carlin - Quote 10

When taking leave of one another, we often say, "Be well."  Perhaps we should be more precise and a bit more practical.  Reasonably, we can't expect everyone to healthy all the time.  Good wishes should be more realistic:

"I hope you remain reasonably healthy during the next eighteen months or so, and if you have a stroke, I hope it only paralyzes you on one side, leaving you free to take phone calls."

I think people would appreciate such thoughtfulness and precision.

JUST A NOTE ABOUT THIS BLOG AND ITS PURPOSE

I began writing this blog not only to entertain people with stories, both non-fiction and fiction, but also as a way to explore myself.  I am using this as a tool to dig into memories that I have buried in the recesses of my mind so that I can come to a better understanding of who I am and what I am.

The non-fiction stories that the reader will read here are based on fact.  The problem is that my memory is not one hundred per cent and so a few of the details may be wrong.  I suspect that some of the people who read read these entries and find themselves as part of the story may have a different remembrance of the events than I do.  That is fine with me.  As I said this is an exploratory exercise. 

I also do some intentional exaggeration of some of the events for the benefit of keeping the stories entertaining for the readers who do not know of me and my life.  I feel that if I simply recited facts of events it would quickly grow boring and I would lose readers that I am happy to have reading my material.  If no one were reading what I write I feel I would be losing out on half of why I am writing.

I enjoy writing.  I enjoy making up stories and telling stories that are true with a little twist to them.

So when I say a story is non-fiction it doesn't mean that it is exactly how things happened.  I did not keep notes or a journal of my life and so in trying to recreate it here, I feel a certain amount of license to stretch the truth just a tad.

Please continue to read and enjoy the blog.  I find it fun to write and to entertain as well as finding out about myself.  I love the fact that people are reading it and I sincerely hope that those of you who enjoy reading it continue to do so.

Thank you for your patience, your readership and loyalty to the blog.

Bill Clark

Friday, January 7, 2011

EYE GLASSES ON THE HIGHWAY

After I married it became my job to occasionally drive my little brother around to various places.  Most of the time this happened when dad was having one of his headaches and needed a shot so mom had to stay home with him.  My little brother is about three years younger than me so in reality it was not a great thrill to drive him and his friends around.  I did it though because it was to help mom and dad.

Brother had some good friends and most of them I liked.  They seem to be good sports when I would tease them or play practical jokes on them.  I want to be clear here.  I never performed a practical joke that actually caused bodily harm, not intentionally anyway.  I would simply make up little stories and make them seem like fact and then raise it to a level where they were dumbfounded and believing what I was saying or they just plain got scared.  My brother was use to my antics though and knew what I was doing and occasionally tried to derail my attempts.  Every once in a while he would get so brazen as to actually try to pull something over on me as I did to his friends.  I considered myself to bright to fall for these gags and seldom was I took in by them.

One summer evening I found myself with the chore of giving a ride home to his friend Jeff.  Jeff was a good kid that I liked a lot.  He had a great sense of humor and was easily pulled in by my stories.  Every once in a while he would feel foolish after I told him the story was not true but he was always able to laugh it off.  We were heading home from church on a Wednesday evening.  We were in Barb's Nova Super Sport that I had gotten caught speeding in a couple of years earlier.  The car was hot and it was fast and a joy to drive.

To get Jeff home from the church we had to take the divided highway south of town.  The speed limit was then a mild fifty five when it should have been seventy.  I usually drove the highway the way it was meant to be driven ignoring the little fifty five limit that no one else followed either.  Brother and Jeff were in the back seat while Barb rode shotgun.  The two boys in the back were in a rather wild mood and soon they were wrestling around a bit and getting loud.  I think they really tried to settle down when I asked them to but something about the night brought out the wildness in them.

It was a cool night so the windows were down in the car.  Suddenly Jeff stuck his head out the back window for reasons unknown.  Perhaps he was mimicking a dog or trying to see how superman kept his eye open when heading into a strong wind while flying.  It wasn't long before each of them were taking turns sticking their heads out the window and to be frank, started getting on my nerves.  Out of nowhere the sound of horror came from the back seat and I heard them begging me to stop.  They tried to tell me that Jeff's glasses had flown off his face while his head was inexplicably hanging out the window.

I had been through this before.  These young kids trying to pull something over on me to make me stop and then have a laugh at me.  I was determined not to take the bait and began teasing them much the way my dad use to tease me.  I would say that we would exit the highway at the next stop then pass it up acting surprised that I had missed it because it came upon us so fast.  Barb finally turned around and when she saw Jeff's face she could tell this was no ruse.  Jeff did not have his glasses on his face and he was close to tears.  My little brother also looked very stoic and it convinced her that I should pull over and we should go back to look for the glasses.  After she ordered me to stop and turn around I did without question.  That was another lesson learned from marriage.  If the wife gets serious enough you don't question the order.  You just do what she says and so I did.

We exited the highway and started heading back towards town.  Barb questioned Jeff on where he thought the glasses had fallen off and after he got calmed down and started thinking straight was able to get us in the general vicinity of where the incident had occurred.

They thought the glasses had fallen off on a stretch of highway that ran in front of a huge shopping center.  The center was on the old Truman farm land and so was named Truman Corners.  Really original.  Since those days new shops have been built all trading on the name of Harry Truman.  There is a strip mall there now that sits right next to the Truman farm home where Harry spent a lot of his growing up years.  As original as a developer can get, they call the strip mall, "The Farm".  I always thought they could come up with something better than that.

We pulled into the parking at Truman Corners off the side of the highway.  All four of us spread out looking for Jeff's glasses.  When you are a kid, losing your glasses is a major crime.  They are expensive and parents do not want to here they were lost because you were hanging your head out the window of a car.  In short we all believed that Jeff's life depended upon us finding his glasses.  Suddenly Barb called out that she had found them.  I looked over at her and she was pointing at the highway.  It did not take long for my mind to decide that if those glasses were on the highway it was not going to be me who retrieved them.

The four of us met where Barb was stand and sure enough there sat the eye glasses in the near lane of the highway.  They rested in the middle of the lane so passing cars were not hitting them but rather driving over them with the glasses staying between the wheels.  We stood there and all of us came to the obvious conclusion that it was indeed lucky that they had not been run over yet.  Then it came decision time on who would be the brave soul to fetch the eye wear.

My first pick of course was my little brother.  Yes, He should be the one to run out in traffic on a busy highway to get his friends glasses.  He was the host more or less and so to do his friend a good deed he should risk life and limb by dashing out there to snatch them up.  My hope wasn't lived out though as Jeff stood up like a man and said it was his responsibility he would make the attempt at the glasses.  He did not get much of an argument from any of us.

Jeff stood licking is lips preparing to make the dash.  He looked down the highway to measure his timing between cars so he could save his glasses without sacrificing himself.  We all saw a hole in the traffic coming up.  We vocally prepared Jeff for the moment of truth.  When the time came we all yelled "GO!" at Jeff.  Jeff froze for just a second.  Just the smallest amount of time that can throw a chain of events completely out of whack.

When Jeff started out onto the highway I saw that the moment had passed.  A car was closing in fast and I tried to get Jeff to stop but it was too late.  He dashed out onto the highway as I stood there helpless.  There was a long loud blast of a car horn as Jeff left the shoulder of the road.  I stood there helpless along with my wife and my brother.  At the last second the car swerved to miss Jeff and the tires crushed his glasses.

Jeff slowly bent down and picked up what was left of them.  There was no lens left, the glass had been pulverized.  The tires of the car had flattened the frames down to just a sliver of metal as if some one with an anvil and a sledge hammer had used it as a torture device on Jeff. 

Jeff walked back to us and we helped him into the back seat of the car.  He just sat there holding what was left of his glasses in silence.  We were lucky Jeff had not been hit by the car.  This way his life would only end temporarily as he took whatever his parents heaped upon him.  His life could have been over permanently.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

THE ROLLING STONES GET WARPED

Most of my friends were music lovers as I was.  We listened to syrupy top forty as well as raw sounding blues based rock.  between all of us we had quite an impressive record collection.  We would use any occasion as an excuse to go out and buy a new album so it was no surprise that when Scott's dad recruited us to lay down concrete blocks in his backyard for patio one summer day that we felt like new music was required for the task.

The local K-Mart was within walking distance from Scott's house so we headed up there for some serious record shopping.  When I say serious record shopping, we would spend an hour or more in a record store trying to decide what we wanted.  on this particular day I bought a double record set of Rare Earth In Concert while Scott bought the Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers.  Sticky Fingers was a great album with cuts on it such as Brown Sugar, Bitch, Wild Horses and You Gotta Move.  Basically it was a blues/rock album that had a hard cutting edge to it.

We walked back to Scott's house to begin laying out the patio.  Before we did anything though, Scott brought his stereo out so we could listen to the new music.  The turntable was one of those old ones with the record changer on it.  It was a tall post that you could stack records on and when the current disc came to an end it would automatically drop the next record down and begin playing it.  This particular turntable also had a plastic dust cover over it to help keep it clean.  We decided we would listen to the Rare Earth first saving the Stones for last and so Scott put my two disc on the changer and gently placed Sticky fingers on top and closed the dust cover as we began the afternoon's work.

We worked steadily enjoying the sounds of Rare Earth and that sound that only a live recording can give you.  It was good music and the time seem to fly by as we continued to lay the concrete blocks down for the new patio.  As the second disc of the Rare Earth album was finishing the tone arm lifted and moved out of the way to drop Sticky Fingers down for it's initial playing.  Our work stopped suddenly when we heard the sounds skipping and the tone arm jumping.  Something was seriously wrong.

Scott ran over to the stereo and opened the dust cover to reveal a record that looked like it came out of a Salvador Dali painting.  It had melted a bit under the hot summer sun with the heat trapped inside the dust cover.  We moved quickly to try to fix the disaster.  Scott put the record back in the jacket which was bowing about an inch wide as it tried to hold the droopy disc.  We then began stacking concrete blocks on top of it hoping that the weight would flatten the disc out while it was still warm.  We went back to work with Scott being very disgusted at what had happened to the Stones.  He muttered and cussed under his breath for the next hour or so as we began to finish up the patio.

After the patio was completed, we went over to the stack of concrete on top of the record and began removing them and putting the blocks in their proper place of the patio.  As we continued to remove the bricks the record stayed flat.  Was it a success?  Scott was confident that it had worked until he lifted the last concrete block off of the record and we saw the jacket spring back up holding the ruined warped disc inside.

Scott said there was only one thing to do and that was to take it back and get a replacement.  I knew in my mind that it was a long shot at best but once Scott made up his mind to do something, it was pretty well going to get done.  Scott pushed the disc in as best he could and got the sales slip for the return.  We then began walking back to the K-Mart.

As we arrived at the record department Scott searched out the sales lady.  Telling her he had a problem with this new album he had just purchased that morning she asked to see the defective record.  Scott explained to her that when we had arrived home and tried to play the record we discovered it was warped.  The lady smiled as she took the record jacket that was billowed out about an inch.  She said but one word and that was "Really?".  Scott assured her that the record was just a little warped and he would like another one.  She wasn't buying it for a second and told us that there was no way we had bought this record in this condition without noticing something wrong.

Scott was a master with words and manipulation and he pulled out all his tricks trying to convince her that the record had indeed been bought in that condition.  She was not believing it though and I think Scott knew as well as I did that this was not going to happen.  The Rolling Stones had melted and were warped beyond repair or listening.  If we had perhaps listened a bit better in science class perhaps we would have been able to foresee what trapped heat would do to vinyl.  We had shut that dust cover as if we were inside and left the Stones to cook..  Later that year the Rolling Stones released a greatest hits collection called "Hot Rocks".  I bought it for Scott.  In a way, it was his second record of hot rocks from the Rolling stones.