Monday, February 28, 2011

WRITER'S BLOCK (RAMBLE ON)

I figure if Jerry Seinfeld can have a successful show about nothing then I can have a blog entry about nothing.  So that is what this is.  A Blog entry about why there is no blog entry today.

Writer's block.  I suppose everyone is faced with this now and again.  I remember many times in school when I would have to write an essay about something that my mind would come up blank.  I had some emergency topics in the back of my mind but it didn't seem right to waste them at that particular time.  That is much the way I feel today.  I do have topics that will make for very good posts, but they need time to be written and to be honest, today doesn't leave much time for thoughtful writing.

I promise that in the future, I will write about some topics that will hopefully bring you enjoyment or thoughtfulness as you read them.  Some are about family, some are about me and some are about thoughts that cross my mind every so often and make me think.

Today I am not thinking so well so I feel it is best not to write on a topic when I can not do it justice.  Why am I not thinking so well today.  Well, there are lots of factors.  One factor is that I am tired.  I have been sleeping a lot lately but apparently it is not good deep sleep that allows my brain to rest.  My anxiety has been rather high as of late and of course that doesn't help.  The job her at the office is going at breakneck speed which is why this will be a short entry.  I have a few minutes to throw something about nothing down but not much more than that.

There have been some issues in the family which have been bothering me and distracting my mind from forming a good story line.  Family can get in your way almost more than anything although most of what I write about is biographical and so the family is either directly in the tale or plays a huge role as background for the story.  I can't write just anything about the family though.  I have to be aware of feelings of others so that I don't hurt anyone by i=using words that can be misinterpreted.  This happened once in the extreme early days of this blog and I ended up deleting the post and I think that was the proper thing to do.

I have been feeling alone a lot.  No, alone is not the word.  Maybe lonely would be better.  No, I feel alone.  I feel like even though I am surrounded by people I am not seen or heard.  I guess I can be fairly complicated at times and it seems like even the people who know me the best do not really know me or understand me.  When a person feels like this they do indeed feel alone and they are left by themselves with their own thoughts inside their mind.  Thoughts that can be damaging or helpful but either way there is no sharing these thoughts because they are stuck inside.  I have a lot of thoughts stuck inside of my mind but I don't dare let them loose upon the world.  Not at this time anyway.

I went to church with Barb yesterday.  I enjoy going to church.  A lot of churches can get clickish but Barb's church is not big enough to get that way yet.  Church politics can be awful at times bringing about actions that the Bible would express disdain for.  But again, Barb's church is not big enough to have these political ideas floating around under the surface.  It is a good church.  One of the best I have ever attended.  I actually do feel like a part of it and it wasn't so very long ago I truly thought I would never feel like I was a part of a church again.  Not too long ago I wouldn't even want to be a part of a church.  This church is different though and I enjoy it.  The pastor is intelligent and a very good thinker and when he presents a sermon you can't help but engage your mind to thinking about what the topic is whether you agree with it or not.  Now that I think about it, I suppose I am a part of a church once again.  Not a bad feeling.

I have come to know the people there and have developed a caring attitude about them.  They face problems like everyone else.  Some of the problems are worse than others but they are human problems and this church seems to pull together and face the problems as one.  This is very rare in this day and age of "Looking out for me" thinking.

Sometimes the things that are in my head are a little scary.  Sometimes they seem stupid.  As you age you learn that things that use to be extremely important don't really make much of a difference in the larger scheme of this thing we call life.  Life is complicated enough without throwing all the little things into the mix.  Sometimes I can't help but wonder what gives us the drive inside ourselves to even want to keep on living.  Sometimes it seems so pointless to be alive.  Other times, however, you experience something and you can't help but think how grand life is.  Life is simply another puzzle of the brain I guess.

I take pills to keep me from thinking about life too much.  I guess I take the pills to keep me from thinking about the lack of life too much.  Either way I am tired of taking pills.  Pills tend to make me something I am not.  It's always been that way.  But in keeping me from being something I am not, they also kept me safe.  Safe meaning alive.  I feel that since I started writing in this blog maybe it is doing my mind as much good as the pills do.  When I write my mind is active and engaged.  I have been able to recall some good times that had been erased from my memory.  Surely this is good for me.

I am not a writer and I make no pretense as being one.  I am a simple story teller and most of those stories are not a product of my imagination but a product of reality as I remember it.  I want to be a writer, but then I want to be an artist too.  Can't really say I am either of those things.  I got into my current line of work because it was the only way I could draw things that made sense.  Now I don't even get to draw as everything is done on a computer.  There are days that I go without even picking up a pencil.

God chose not to give me the skills for two things I want to do most so where does that leave me?  What am I suppose to do then?  I have no idea.  I wish I did.

I think I know what I have to do.  I have to come to the realization that nobody is absolutely needed for any particular thing.  There is always somebody else to step in and do whatever it is if you die or quit working at doing whatever it is.  I do what I do.  I enjoy what I do.  But when the time comes, there will be someone waiting to step in and take over and the fact that I once was needed will be forgotten because I, like everyone, am not absolutely needed.for anything.

So that is my blog entry about nothing.  Nothing I wrote should be taken too seriously or too lightly.  It is just a bunch of words that total up to nothing except something to cause us all to stop and give pause and to think.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

CATCHING BOOK FEVER

I love books. I love reading them and learning from them by those much more intelligent than I am.  I have discovered that it makes no difference if a book is non-fiction or fiction you can still learn from reading.  In reality though, I don't read much fiction but of the fiction I have read there are several that stand out as books that taught me a lot that.

I have been reading as long as I can remember.  Something in books ignite the imagination.  Maybe it is being told a story very quietly inside your head.  Reading a book is quiet time and concentration time.  It is like a little voice in your head telling you a story.  I could be wrong, but I honestly do not remember many books being read to me by someone other than myself.

My parents had bought a set of Encyclopedias that came with a set of childrens books.  These books were written in large print and condensed down to hold a child's attention better.  They included such titles as Black Beauty, Treasure Island, Alice in Wonderland among others.  I read these books several times over and I still hold onto to these books on a bookcase in my house.   They are still a treasure to me.  My son read them as he was growing up so this set of books have gone through two generations.  Hopefully eventually they will go through a third generation depending upon Brett and what his future holds.  Right now looks like it will stop at two generations.

I am told that I use to read the encyclopedia volumes when I was young but I do not remember this.  If you think about it though, reading an encyclopedia can be very exciting and interesting.  They jump from topic to topic in short order so you don't get bogged down in one story line too often.

My book reading really took off though the year I caught Book Fever.  I was in the fourth grade and my teacher, Ms Fitzwater, had a plethora of books in the back of the room on a book shelf.  The definition of a plethora of books to a fourth grader is simply "a LOT of books."  Ms Fitzwater use to encourage us to read whenever we had spare time.  If we got our lessons over early she would allow us to read.  She would let us order books through the Weekly Reader book club at school.  These were small books that did not cost too much but gave you something to build a library at home upon.  I got art books and biographies and fictional books from the club.  Probably the book that stands out the most in my mind that i got that year was a book on Robert F. Kennedy.  It made an impression on me about the man that still holds in my mind to this day.

I think my school work may have suffered a bit during that fourth grade year because I would rush through my assignment in order to have some reading time.  Ms Fitzwater tried to keep me on track with my lessons but at the same time I think she knew I was a reader and she was very careful not to put that fire out I think.  It was Ms Fitzwater that introduced me to the author that would fill the rest of my life with his novels.  That author was John Steinbeck.

Ms Fitzwater saw me looking over the books one day trying to find one that I hadn't read yet.  She was not a tall lady and I wasn't a short boy so we could look each other in the eye without too much trouble.  I remember her stretching up to an upper shelf and bringing down a little paperback book.  It wasn't very thick and I thought I would be able to read it in a day or so.  She held it out to me and said she thought that I would really enjoy this, but that it was a very serious book and I should read it slowly and carefully.  In bold black letters at the top of the white paperback cover were the words "Of Mice and Men".  At first the title was a little intimidating.  Add the title to the warning from Ms Fitzwater about it being a serious book and I wasn't sure I wanted to take this little book or not.  The title alone made it sound like a difficult read.  She assured me I would enjoy it and so I took it home that night and began to read Steinbeck for the first time in my life.  Within two hours of starting the book my love affair with the works of Steinbeck was in full bloom.

It took me two days to read the book the first time and then I kept it the rest of the week to read it again.  What a sad tale it told.  It was more difficult to read the second time than the first because I KNEW as George and Lenny worked through problems and tried to keep things straight so they could work, I KNEW what was in store for Lenny.  I did not like the ending but the book captivated me.  Steinbeck was writing a story and to be honest I couldn't tell if it was a true story or not.  I would come to appreciate the magic Steinbeck had with words with each year that I grew and read more of his books.

I took the book back to school the next week and put it back on the shelf where I had seen Ms Fitzwater take it from.  Later that day, she called me over during recess and asked me if I had been able to finish the book.  After I told her I had read it twice she began asking questions of me about the book and suggested that I write a book report on it,  She would give me extra credit which she apparently thought I could use at that point in time of the school year.  Seems like a lot of my teachers would be offering me extra credit as I progressed through school.  I agreed and began work on a book report on the classic book by Steinbeck.

It was probably the hardest report I ever had to do.  As I sat and thought of the book I realized that it was an extremely complicated book.  It was so much more than two friends traveling together, getting a job together and then one of the friends killing the other for his friends own safety.  I knew there was more to it than that but my mind wasn't trained enough to be able to pick it out and put it into words.  I did my best though and after turning in the report Ms Fitzwater had some very nice words for the report and gave me the extra credit she had promised.  I do believe it was at this moment that I caught full blown BOOK FEVER;  I wanted to read more of Steinbeck and others like him.  Ms Fitzwater gave me some other books to read that year but none captured my mind the way Steinbeck's novel had.  There was something so very real about Steinbeck and the characters he wrote of.

Six years later I would have another teacher that recognized my love of and search for books that could fire the imagination.  I was very lucky to get a literature teacher by the name of Ms Belden my sophomore year.  She introduced me to more of John Steinbeck's work.  "In Dubious Battle". "Travel's With Charley", " East Of Eden", and the masterpiece of Steinbecks collection of work "The Grapes Of Wrath."  There were other authors out there who had written of the human condition much the way Steinbeck had.  She introduced me to Sinclair Lewis and his fictional of city  of Zenith filled with fictional characters that if you looked hard enough you could see in current everyday life.  There was George Babbit and Dr. Arrowsmith along with a traveling preacher named  Elmer Gantry.  She introduced me to an author by the name of Upton Sinclair, whose book "The Jungle" had my eyes scouring it four or five times before the cover fell off of it.

Even though my taste in books would almost totally switch over to non-fiction as I grew older, teachers played a major role in getting me to learn what to read and how to read.  It was these two teachers, Ms Fitzwater and Ms Belden, that had that extra gift of bringing books alive and allowing me to learn why to read.

As a side note:  I am feeling a little grief over the electronic revolution that is slowing doing away with the old books.  The books you held in your hand.  The books that you could stop and hold it and think about what you just read.  I grieve over the day when there won't be that beautiful sight of books lined up along a shelf with different bindings and colors.  I like to hold a book.  I like to thumb through it.  I like to look at a book and it jacket cover.  I am afraid the day of the actual book is coming to a close and I mourn it.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Spirits of the Dead - A Poem by Edgar Allan Poe

Thy soul shall find itself alone
'Mid dark thoughts of the grey tomb-stone;
Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy.

Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness- for then
The spirits of the dead, who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee, and their will
Shall overshadow thee; be still.

The night, though clear, shall frown,
And the stars shall not look down
From their high thrones in the Heaven
With light like hope to mortals given,
But their red orbs, without beam,
To thy weariness shall seem
As a burning and a fever
Which would cling to thee for ever.

Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish,
Now are visions ne'er to vanish;
From thy spirit shall they pass
No more, like dew-drop from the grass.

The breeze, the breath of God, is still,
And the mist upon the hill
Shadowy, shadowy, yet unbroken,
Is a symbol and a token.
How it hangs upon the trees,
A mystery of mysteries!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

BACK TO THE CABBAGE PATCH

It seems like every year there is a new toy that comes out that every kid absolutely needs.  The stores cannot keep these items on the shelves and parents intent on getting the toy will do almost anything to capture one for their child at Christmas Time.

In the early to mid eighties that toy was the infamous Cabbage Patch Doll.  These were cloth dolls in which none two looked alike.  The idea was to find one that resembled your child as closely as possible so that they can , well, have themselves for Christmas I guess.  The demand for these dolls were so high I heard of some parents giving hundreds of dollars for a Cabbage Patch doll whether it looked like their child or not.

The Cabbage Patch Doll phenomenon came at about the time that we adopted our son, Brett.  There was not much of a chance of us getting one and we certainly could not afford to go the black market route and pay hundreds of dollars for one.  It was with this in mind that Barb set about on her labor of love.

She decided that she would make a Cabbage Patch Doll for Brett's Christmas.  She set about studying the pictures of the dolls and soon had a plan on how she was going to accomplish this task.  She began working and worked on it almost every spare minute she had.  The doll would be dressed in a similar outfit to the kind that Brett wore.  It would have his brown eyes and his blond hair that stuck straight up from his head.  I must admit I had my doubts as to whether she could pull this off or not.

She finally finished the doll a few days before Christmas.  She did a fantastic job on it.  It looked and felt like a Cabbage Patch Doll and looked a lot like a miniature version of our son.  She boxed it up and wrapped it to be placed beneath the Christmas tree.  Now all she had to do was hold in her excitement until the day came when Brett would open this box and hug himself in doll form and be the happiest kid on the block.  I think she was ten times more excited about Christmas then I have ever been, which isn't saying a lot.  Christmas and me do not get along well.  I must admit though that I was pretty anxious to see Brett's reaction to the doll and then see Barb's reaction to Brett's reaction.

The day finally arrived.  We did all the preliminary stuff that tradition holds for us to do at Christmas.  First we had to go through the stockings.  The wait was starting to cause Barb to agonize over how long we were taking for each little thing.  I don't blame her though.  I knew how much love and hard work she had put into that doll.  She was getting very anxious to see the fruits of her labor.

Finally it came time for Brett to open the precious package.  It had been wrapped with the same loving hands that had created the little boy inside the box.  As I write this I am having flashes of a Pinocchio type story coming along.  Not to worry my dear reader.  This is not going where Pinocchio went.

Brett slowly unwrapped the package as was his standard method of operation.  He always careful tore one piece of wrapping paper off  and hand it to either Barb or myself.  I was proud that Barb just didn't grab the box out of his hands and unwrap it for him to speed up the process.  She waited though and eventually the box was revealed and ready to be opened.

Brett opened the box and I could see the excitement in Barb's eyes as she waited for his reaction.  His reaction was a far cry from what either of us could ever imagine.  As Barb held up the doll in front of him he took a small step backwards.  His finger went up to his mouth and he looked at it with wary eyes.  The eyse turned from wary to scared then to absolute fright.

"PUT.... IT.... BACK" Brett demanded as he pointed at the box.  Barb tried to explain to him that it was a doll for him to play with.  "PUT... IT... BACK!!" he stressed once again and throwing his hand with his finger pointing out to the box.  Barb showed him that it was a lot like him.  They had the same eyes and the same hair, why he was even wearing clothes like Brett was wearing.  "PUT.... IT BACK!!!!!" Brett ordered with his voice a little louder and a little more anxiously.  Barb's face dropped.  I was stunned at Brett's reaction.  I felt sorry for Barb but in my own little way I was amused as well.  It would not be a good thing to let Barb see my amusement though so I kept a straight face and decided that I would give it a try to talk Brett into accepting the doll.

I held the doll gently and tried to show Brett how neat this thing was.  "PUT IT BACK... PUT IT BACK... PUT IT BACK!!!!!" Brett almost screamed.  This was not going to happen, not today anyway.  This doll was freaking him out.

Over the next few days we tried to get the doll out and give it to Brett and talk him into accepting it.  Each time was met with the same demand from his little voice.  "PUT IT BACK!!!"  And the doll would be put back in the box and set aside until the next day.  Eventually it was Barb and I who learned to accept the fact that the doll was not going to happen.  We decided that later when he was a little older we might try to give it to him again.  I had my doubts as to whether this would work because Brett seemed to be somewhat traumatized over seeing himself in doll form.

Eventually Barb gently put the doll in a plastic bag and put it up on the shelf in Brett's room.  We dare not show Brett where it was or he may not be able to sleep at night.  The doll laid up on the shelf past his birthday.  It was still there the next Christmas and his next birthday.

The other day I looked up on that shelf in the closet where Brett use to reside and I saw a plastic bag with a blond haired doll tucked safely inside of it.  I imagine it will stay there for quite a few years more and maybe when the time comes that Barb and I are gone and Brett is going through our things int he house, he may come across Barb's great labor of love.  Perhaps he will cherish it.  Perhaps he will put it back.  There is no way of knowing if Brett will ever get over freaking himself out like he did that Christmas so many years ago.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

SITTING ON A DEATH JURY

I have been called down to the Jackson County courthouse several times to do the civic duty of being in a pool of possible jurors.  I have only been selected for a jury one time.  It was one of the most educational events of my life and gave me new insight to the Henry Fonda classic "Twelve Angry Men".  I was in my early twenties at the time and did not know what was to be my fate on that day.

It was summer when I went down to the courthouse at eight in the morning.  I took the elevator up to the proper floor and saw a huge line of people waiting to check into the jury waiting room.  As I stood in line I heard complaints from others in line.  This was a disaster for them.  They had work to do.  They had kids to take care of.  Any complaint about the inconvenience of jury duty that could be thought up was discussed among the potential jurors.

When my time came to check in they took my jury summons and checked my identification to be sure I was who I was suppose to be.  Apparently there is a black market in Jackson County for doing someone else's jury duty.  We were herded into a large room with very uncomfortable chairs.  Then the entertainment for the day came on.  It was a tape being shown on three televisions about how great it is that we are all downtown sitting in a stuffy room with people we don't know to do our civic duty.   Don't get me wrong, I am a firm believer in the peoples privileged to be on a jury.  It is one of the most important parts of our form of government to insure that we keep our rights.  But don't tell me that it is going to be fun.  The coffee was bad, the room was stuffy and worst of all it was noisy.  A judge then asked for those who couldn't be on jury duty that week to come up and give him their excuses.  I had no excuse not to be there so I sat.

I started reading the book I had brought along with me.  It was difficult to read with all the chaos going on.  Then a loud voice started calling out some of the numbers that we had been assigned when we checked in.  They called about twenty numbers and about twenty people stood up and got in line and were taken away.  After a while another group of numbers were called and more people were led away.  It was eerily similar to cattle being taken off to slaughter.  While I was thinking that thought a group of people from the first line to leave returned.  That was a relief.  Cattle usually don't return after being led to a slaughter.

The day progressed and more groups were led away and more people from the groups were returning.  Juries were being selected throughout the morning as I sat there bored and trying to decide whether to try to take a nap or not.  Too noisy for napping.  When lunch came around I took advantage of the situation and went outside and walked around downtown a bit before I had to return to that stale room.

The afternoon went much the same way as the morning until about two o'clock.  My number was called.  Not only was my number called but about everyone in the room's number was called.  I guess there must have been about a hundred of us being led to the elevators and then into a courtroom.  The first fourteen numbers called were set in the jury box while the rest of us sat in order on the pews that made up the gallery of the courtroom.  They then began the ritual of dismissing people because they didn't fit the profile that the prosecutor or the defendant wanted.

The first to be dismissed were any that knew the judge or any of the lawyers in the room.  Then if you knew the defendant you were excused.  If you knew of the defendant or any of his family, you can go.  After it was established that no one in the room knew anyone else they gave us one last chance to get out.  The judge asked if there was any reason for you not to serve on a jury.  One lady raised her hand and stood up.  "I am mentally incompetent" she said.  It was with a firm tone of voice and after the lawyers looked at each other and the judge, they let her go.  You could see a hundred light bulbs going off over peoples heads at that point.  I am sure all of them were thinking "Why didn't I think of that?"

They then began to question those in the jury box and with each dismissal of a person we all scooted up one place in line.  Pretty soon I found myself sitting in the jury box being questioned by these lawyers.  I passed their test and was assigned to the jury.  I wasn't sure how I felt at that point.  I had come to the conclusion that it was to be a murder trial because they were asking everyone how they felt about the death penalty and if we would hesitate to sentence a man to die.  It seemed that if you had any hesitation on the question at all you were excused.  I knew where I stood on the issue and the judge decided to keep me.

After fourteen of us were selected the rest of the room was excused and then we learned the shocking news.  We were to be sequestered through out the trial.  They were expecting the trial to last five or six days.  We were to go home and without talking to anyone, pack a suitcase and be back at the Holiday Inn downtown for our little working vacation.

Barb and I  were to have carpeting installed that week which would require a lot of furniture moving that I would now not have to do.  It was going to be Barb's problem.  I packed a suitcase, kissed her goodbye and headed downtown.  We all congregated in the lobby of the hotel as the bailiff got our room keys and paired us off into roommates.  My roommate was a young man about thirty years old and with a scraggly beard.

The county had reserved a whole floor of the hotel for us and we were not allowed to leave the floor.  Thankfully it was the floor with the swimming pool  and I found myself sitting out on the deckchairs into the night watching the city.  It was relaxing.  When I went back to my room that night, my rooomie pulled out a plastic bag of weed from his suitcase and offered me some.  I declined and decided to try to get some sleep as the trial would be starting in the morning.

During the course of the trial we all had to stay together.  They walked us in single file down to a cafeteria for lunch everyday.  I felt like I was in kindergarten again.  We ate in the hotel dining room for breakfast and dinner.  We were not allowed to watch television or read any newspapers.  Phones in all of our rooms were disconnected.  This is what life was like in Dicken's time I thought.  Well we DID have electric lights but other than that, not a lot going on.

It is hard to live with a group of people for a week and get to know them without discussing what you are there for but that was what we had to do.  No discussion of the trial was allowed at all until the case was turned over to us.  It made ofr a long week.

The case was that of a man who had killed his girlfriends mother for her social security check.  The woman had been stabbed over twenty five times as she succumbed to death.  We had to decide if there was sufficient evidence to say that this was the man who had done it.  After a week of testimonies from prostitutes, girlfriends, gang members, neighbors and after being shown photographs of the victim and the crime scene the case was turned over to us and we were locked away over the courtroom to decide.

The bailiff had told us that he could always tell when a jury had come to a decision because the toilets would start to flush a lot.  That night we decided to flush the toilets time after time before asking for dinner.  The bailiff was not amused but went ahead and brought us in some dinner.  It was Friday afternoon when we began deliberations and at about nine that night we had all come to agreement.  We declared the defendant as guilty of first degree murder.  It was a very tense moment.  They had placed two armed officers in front of the jury box, two officers in front of the judge and another two officers behind the now guilty man.  Except for an outburst from the gallery it was pretty quiet when the verdict was read.  The presence of the officers had done what it was suppose to do.

We would have to decide on the punishment the next day so it was back to the hotel for one last night together.  There wasn't much sleep that night.  The tension was still hanging around from the courthouse.  You begin to think of the gravity of what you just did and what will be asked of you the next day.  A man was now in the county jail knowing he would either be sentenced to life without parole or death the next day. They jury was thinking about it as mcuh as the convicted was.  It was not a restful night.

The next morning found us back in the courthouse as arguments were given for mercy and for death.  The man's father came to plead for the life of his son.  As the morning went on the weight of the decision became heavier with each argument put forth.  Life or death.  Life or death.  You just kept hearing those two words over and over in your mind.  Life or death.  Life or death.  When they sent us back to the jury room to make that decision, we were all laden with a heavy heart and a sense of importance in doing the right thing.

We discussed it for a couple of hours and it came down to an eleven to one vote for death.  It had to be unanimous but no matter how hard we tried to come up with a consensus there was one man who would not vote for death.  His reasoning was that a lifetime in jail was much worse of a punishment than death.  Soon he was joined by two others and so with a vote of nine to three for death, we sentenced the man to life in prison without parole.

Immediately after the sentencing we were rushed to an elevator and taken to the basement of the courthouse.  A van with darkened windows awaited us and we were shoved into the van and driven away to the hotel where we collected our things and all headed in different directions home.

With the logic of my mind and my voice, I sentenced a man I did not know to death.  In my heart I was relieved that he had received life without parole.

Life or death.  Life or death.  Life or death.  We say we have life or death decisions in our everyday lives but until you literally have to make the decision of life or death, you have no idea how heavy it weighs on you.

Life or death...............life or death............................. life.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

KEVAN COMES TO THE RACES

Dennis and I became friends when I started working at my present job back in nineteen seventy nine.  He was a man who was always on the go doing something.  In his younger days he would jump from hobby to hobby and from woman to woman.  Most of all in those early years his time was spent on racing.

By the time I am writing this Dennis would have raced go karts, 1/4 midgets, midgets and remote control cars as well as remote controlled airplanes and helicopters.  He enjoyed competition and went where ever competition could be found.  Dennis always gave one hundred percent to whatever he was doing.  We had a softball game one year between sales and engineering and Dennis played shortstop like Ozzie Smith diving for every ball that was anywhere near him.

When I met him he was racing his go kart.  I had been introduced to racing by Harry, my wife's father.  We would go every weekend during the summer to Riverside raceway in North Kansas City and I fell in love with racing.  Racing with Dennis would bring me to a higher level of involvement.

We would work on the go cart in his basement in Roeland Park, Kansas during the week to get it ready for the Sunday race in Liberty, Missouri.  This go kart wasn't what the average person would think of as a go kart.  It sat low to the ground and had a two cycle engine on it.  It took Bridgestone tires and was capable of going upwards to sixty miles an hour.  As in any kind of racing the driver looks for any advantage he can get to help his chance of winning.  For Dennis this involved tweaking all parts of the kart during the week and taking it out for a test drive.

One summer evening I was over at Dennis' watching TV while he tweaked his kart a bit.  We would take it out of the basement through the cellar doors and he would drive it around the block and back to the house where we would carry it back into the basement for more tweaking.  In between one of these test runs I noticed a police car stop in front of the house.  Two officers got out of the car and began walking up the driveway.  I quickly jumped up and met them on the front porch where they asked me if I had a son.  I honestly answered that no I did not and they said there were complaints of a noisy little go kart being driven around the neighbor hood.

As I was assuring them that since I didn't have a son it couldn't be my kid driving the thing one of the officers wandered down the driveway to the cellar doors that were wide open with Dennis at the bottom of the stairs working feverishly on his go Kart.  The officers walked inside and let a whistle of disbelief out  They started questioning Dennis about the contraption and after explaining to them that he raced it they informed that unfortunately he wasn't allowed to drive it on the public streets.  No headlights, no break lights, not licensed, well the list went on and on.  As they left they wished Dennis good luck this weekend and followed that with a final warning about driving it on the public streets.  Dennis figured he had worked on the Kart enough for one day.

Then one Sunday our boss Kevan along with Bernita and her sister Betty came out to watch Dennis race.  I helped Dennis work on the Kart between races as I always did while the three of them began drinking beers to cool off as the afternoon began to get hot.  Dennis did not win that day but by the time the day of racing was over Kevan, Bernita and Betty were pretty well soused.  We decided to follow them over to Bernita's house to be sure they got home okay and then have dinner with them.

During dinner Kevan, our boss and mentor, continued to drink until he was pretty well gone.  We all decided that we should get Kevan home to his wife who would love having her husband delivered to her in this shape.  I would drive Kevan's car with Kevan in it and Dennis would follow in the van with the go kart inside.  We worked and worked to get Kevan out to the car.  Before he would go to the car he said he had to go to the bathroom so we let him.  We all sat in the living room waiting on him and after a while Dennis decided to go check on Kevan in case he had passed out in the bathroom.  When Dennis opened the door he was stunned.  He called for me to come take a look and when I got to the bathroom it was obvious what had happened.  The window in the bathroom was wide open and there was no Kevan in sight.

We decided to spread out and look for Kevan around the neighborhood and finally found him two houses up laying in the front yard of one of Bernita's neighbors.  We gently picked him up and walked him back to the car talking softly to him as we went.  Things would be okay and Rose wouldn't be too upset even though both of us knew it was a lie to tell Kevan that.  Rose would go through the roof.  This wouldn't be the first time we had delivered Kevan to her on the front lawn.

We finally got Kevan in the car and as we were telling our goodbyes to Bernita and Betty, Kevan somehow silently slipped out of the car and began to run down the block.   We eventually caught him even though he was running around like a he was returning a kickoff in a football game.  As we led him to the car he began insisting on going to the bathroom again but we denied him that luxury.  He would get in the car now and we would get him home.

As soon as Kevan was in the car I started driving to keep him from getting loose again.  All the way back to his house he was mumbling.  He would talk about how much fun the races had been then shift to how mad Rose was going to be again and then all of a sudden you would hear "THAT WAS A FUN RACE!!" and so forth.  Eventually he fell asleep in the car and all was quiet on the return home.

Rose did not care to much for Dennis and myself.  It always seemed that when we were around her husband he usually came home disabled from alcohol.  In truth it was because we wee there that Kevan felt comfortable drinking because he knew we would get him home safely.  One night after a get together with some of our co-workers I had just driven Kevan home in my car.  As I came up to the house I saw the shadow of Rose in the doorway.  The safest thing for me to do that night was to reach over Kevan, open the door and let him roll out onto the lawn before speeding away.  It didn't win me any points with Rose but it saved me from taking the shots from her that were aimed at Kevan.

This delivery was going to be tricky though because I was driving Kevan home in Kevan's car.  As I pulled quietly into the driveway and turned the car off, I quietly opened the door and left it open.  I didn't want to shut it because the sound might arouse Rose from her chair and send her tearing out into the front yard to confront me.  As I slipped out of Kevan's car leaving him asleep in the passenger seat, Dennis had pulled up and opened the passenger door to the van.  I jumped in quickly and we sped away.  All Rose would find would be her husbands car with a door open and her husband sound asleep inside.

Rose never confronted us on this delivery.  If she didn't catch you delivering her husband than she pretty well forgot about it by the next time you would see her.  There were a lot of other things going on between Kevan and Rose for her to focus on drunk deliveries all the time.

Kevan came back to the races a few times after that but we were sure to do our best to ration his beer drinking during the day.  In spite of all of that though, there would be more times that we would have to deliver Kevan to Rose and take a chance on getting his beating that, according to Rose, he deserved.

Monday, February 21, 2011

FUNERAL PROCESSION

Up until the time I was a freshman in school our family had been extremely lucky at the death game.  My grandfather's brother had died but other than that we did not have to deal with death much.  I was a pall bearer at Uncle Art's funeral but I didn't have to do much of anything.  I had one of my strong uncles in front of me and another behind me as we carried the casket to the waiting hearse.  I don't remember much about that funeral except it was a Catholic funeral and it was the first time I witnessed how much excersize the Catholics did during the course of a service.  Standing kneeling and standing and kneeling again it seemed like a lot of work compared to my Baptist upbringing.  We just had to stand when we sang a hymn and even then it wasn't a rule as sometimes we sat while singing hymns.

My freshman year I had become infatuated with a young lady named Patty.  In my eyes Patty was beautiful.  I think she was beautiful in a lot of peoples eyes.   She had a dark complexion with cat like eyes.  Her hair was long and straight and looked soft.  I spent all year trying to work up the courage to ask her out on a date.  Asking girls out on a date before you are sixteen can be a very uncomfortable position.  Both you and the girl know that your parents will be driving you on the date and picking you up from the date.  It is not something that exactly encourages romance during those few hours.

Finally one day the school announced that there would be a dance in a few weeks.  It would be an after school dance so I would not have to depend on my parents to drive us there but rather just to pick us up after the dance was over.  I saw Patty that day in my English class and I knew I wanted to ask her out.  After about three days I worked up the courage and with sweaty palms and a cracking voice asked her if she would go to the dance with me.  When she said yes I felt like I wasn't in reality at all but dreaming.  Had she really said yes to my invitation?  Yes she had.  I began looking forward to the dance intensely.  I started taking time to talk to Patty between classes to try to get to know her before the big day.  We had several classes together so I was able to walk her to class.  She seemed to be enjoying my presence and I slowly began to think that perhaps she was looking forward to the dance as much as I was.

Two days before the dance we received terrible news.  Death had touched our family again.  My great grandmother had died.  It wasn't really unexpected as she was very old and had been having problems for a while.  The timing was awful though.  I was told that I would be going to the funeral and that I would just have to cancel the date with Patty.  The next day I went to school and told her.  To my surprise she didn't seem that upset.  This bothered me even more.  I had worked so hard to get up the nerve to ask her and then when I cancel she responds with a simple "okay".  Crushed I resolved myself to go to the funeral.

I don't remember much of the funeral to be honest.  I had loved my great grandmother a great deal.  She had taught me things about the Bible and had always been a great cook.  She had a tough life and I suppose it was fair to give her back after being blessed with her all those years.  I remember sitting with her one time when I was little and she was writing out bills.  As she was signing one of the checks she stopped and looked at me.  She pointed to the "D" that was her middle initial and told me she never mentioned what her middle name was.  Her middle name was the same name as the wickedest woman in the Bible and she was ashamed of having it tied to her like a ball and chain for life.  I later learned the name she hated so was that of Delilah of Sampson and Delilah fame.  Looking back this still gives me a chuckle.

The procession from the church at which her funeral was held and the cemetery where she would be laid to rest next to husband was a long drive between two towns in south Missouri.  It was during this ride that I noticed how people are fascinated with the dead and the rituals we go through at the time of death.

I sat in the back seat of my dad's car staring out the window.  Cars passing us had several different reactions.  Some cars I noticed would slow down or even stop.  Others you could see them staring at us and they looked almost as sad as our family was during the drive.  One car full of kids drove by honking their horn and waving.  Some men would remove their hats as the funeral procession passed.

This fascinated me.  Why would people who we didn't know or had ever seen have on sad faces as we passed?  Why would men show the ultimate sign of respect by removing their hats in honor of the person who was to be buried that day?  I didn't understand it then and I am not sure I understand it now.

Even though I don't understand it I still show respect to the family and to the one lost in death as they pass me.  Respect is one of the things that ties us all together as a community whether it be a small community of people in a small town or the community of the world.  Respect should be in attendance and in its appropriate place.  Having survived life on this earth for any amount of time can be considered respect worthy.  Life on this planet isn't easy and anyone who dares to live on this planet deserves the respect due them when they leave this earth.  I firmly believe that.

A funeral procession represents a life and everyone in that funeral procession represents all the lives that the deceased person touch during their life time.  A procession is not a parade to be honked at and waved to.  A funeral procession is the last ride a body will take until it is laid to rest forever and a day.  I know this because I took my wife to see my great grandmothers resting place.  Next to her was my great grandfathers grave, a man I had never known.  I respect him though.  I respect him from the stories I have heard about him.  I still respect my great grandmother because of the woman I knew who lies there now.

I learned a valuable lesson the day of that funeral and it is a lesson I carry the results of with me when I see a funeral procession   My hope in writing this is that at least one person will be moved to think about the life that is represented the next time he comes across a funeral procession.  Death always leaves a hole in others lives somewhere.  The cycle will continue until the world comes to an end.  Death takes no holidays and there is not a family on this earth that is immune from death.  Show respect to those who leave this world before you and you will be shown respect at the time you leave this world.

The dance with Patty and missing that dance seemed to be a rather small occurrence in the whole scheme of things.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

KELLY'S WEDDING ROCKS

My eldest niece Kelly Lynn had grown to the age of getting married.  Kelly is a beautiful young lady with naturally blond hair and blue eyes that sparkle.  Her smile is a smile that encompasses her whole face.  Not only is there a smile on her lips but a smile in her cheeks, her eyes and even her ears.  Kelly gives as well as she takes.  I have a habit of giving my nieces and nephews a hard time and teasing them a lot.  Sometimes they take it seriously and I have to break down and let them know it is a joke.  There aren't any hard feelings when I do that as they all know that it is just Uncle Bill being Uncle Bill.  I consider it my job to tease them to make them think about things.  At an early age Kelly figured out to never take Uncle Bill seriously.  To this day she does not take me seriously but she loves me as much as I love her.

Barb and I drove down to Alabama the week of Kelly's wedding to spend some time with my sister Elaine and her family.  It was an enjoyable visit that allowed me time to continue the teasing and educating Elaine's kids.  Sometimes I think Elaine's kids, Bo and Kim, still take Uncle Bill too seriously at times but they are learning as they grow up.

As the weekend neared we began to plan for the trip over to Georgia for Kelly's wedding.  We would drive caravan style with my brother in law Sonny leading the way,with Barb and I following.  It was about a five hour trip plus the time trying to drive through Atlanta but since I wasn't responsible for getting us to the right place on time, it was a rather relaxing drive.  Since Elaine was to play the organ for the wedding and my son Brett was to be the ring bearer we had to arrive a little early for every one to get into place.

We arrived at my sister Carol's house in plenty of time.  Brett was dressed in a little tuxedo and was getting prepped on what to do.  For a while I thought Brett would have a career as a ring bearer but fortunately he grew out of his cuteness and into handsomeness.

It was a crazy scene at the house as everyone was running all over the place so Sonny and I picked out a corner to sit in and stay out of the way.  It was better for everyone that we do.  Elaine was getting dressed, Kelly was being made even more lovely than she already was and things were moving along fairly smoothly as far as I could tell.

Finally it came time to go to the church.  It was a little country church with gravel roads and a gravel parking lot.  The sanctuary was not very large but it was pretty in its simplicity.  It had been decorated to enhance the event that was being held that night.  Flowers and ribbons adorned everything everywhere.  Elaine went up and sat at the organ to get use to playing it before she would be called upon to do it for real.

Elaine was the only one of us kids to take organ lessons.  We had all taken piano lessons and all of us could pick out a tune or so on the piano.  The organ was a totally different story though.  Up until that night I had never touched an organ keyboard.  I heard Elaine practicing softly and decided to go and sit next to her to give her encouragement before her big solo.  It was an important solo based just on the fact that it was the first wedding of the generation coming up behind us.  As I sat and distracted Elaine from her practicing time began to slip by.  We had not noticed it but people were beginning to arrive at the church for the wedding.  Elaine was suppose to be playing her solo for real but she was too busy talking to me to realize it.

It was at this time I decided I wanted to try something.  There was a song in the rock world called "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida that had a very wicked organ solo opening to it.  I knew this solo.  It was a run up the keys that stopped at the top and then slowly melted into the song.  I loved this solo and had played it hundreds of times on the piano but never on an organ.  I wanted to know what it sounded like.

I gave Elaine a little shove and told her to listen to THIS and ran the solo of overlapping keys up to its high point then began playing the bass notes to the song.  I was really enjoying this when Elaine told me to stop.  We both looked out and saw that the church was over half filled and more people were coming in.  Elaine immediately told me to go sit down and I begrudgingly did so although I wanted to finish the song.

Elaine did very well the rest of the wedding.  She did a fine job on the little time left for her pre-song that was to be played as people arrived.  She was marvelous playing the wedding march and the post wedding song.  As for me I had the satisfaction of knowing I had played one of rock's most famous organ solos at Kelly's wedding while the guests were arriving.

That should be the end of the story but it is not.  Kelly was here in Missouri to celebrate her grandmother's eightieth birthday last October.  While we were talking and messing around I queried Kelly on whether she knew I had played In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida at her wedding.  She wasn't buying it.  She knew Uncle Bill too well to fall for something as ridiculous as that.  I assured her several times that I had indeed played the famous organ intro to the song as her guest were arriving but that I didn't think anyone noticed.  She refused to believe me insisting that I was just teasing her as I had done all of her life.  Finally I turned to Elaine and asked her "Elaine, did I or did I not play In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida at Kelly's wedding?"  Elaine sighed and looked at Kelly and nodded her head.  "Yes, Kelly, I am afraid he did".  Kelly then began to question whether Elaine was teasing or not but both me and Elaine had a serious look on our faces and you could see the recognition in Kelly's face as she he face grew into a large smile.  I had gotten her one more time and I had done it while she was refusing to believe that I was actually telling her the truth.  It was one of the best teases I ever had on Kelly Lynn.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Unwell - Matchbox 20 (Rob Thomas)

All day
Staring at the ceiling
Making friends with shadows on my wall
All night
Hearing voices telling me
That I should get some sleep
Because tomorrow might be good for something
Hold on
I'm feeling like I'm headed for a
Breakdown
I don't know why

I'm not crazy, I'm just a little unwell
I know, right now you can't tell
But stay awhile and maybe then you'll see
A different side of me

I'm not crazy, I'm just a little impaired
I know, right now you don't care
But soon enough you're gonna think of me
And how I used to be
Me

Talking to myself in public
Dodging glances on the train
I know
I know they've all been talking 'bout me
I can hear them whisper
And it makes me think there must be something wrong
With me
Out of all the hours thinking
Somehow
I've lost my mind

I'm not crazy, I'm just a little unwell
I know, right now you can't tell
But stay awhile and maybe then you'll see
A different side of me

I'm not crazy, I'm just a little impaired
I know right now you don't care
But soon enough you're gonna think of me
And how I used to be

I been talking in my sleep
Pretty soon they'll come to get me
Yeah, they're taking me away

I'm not crazy, I'm just a little unwell
I know, right now you can't tell
But stay awhile and maybe then you'll see
A different side of me

I'm not crazy I'm just a little impaired
I know, right now you don't care
But soon enough you're gonna think of me
And how I used to be

Hey, how I used to be
How I used to be, yeah
Well I'm just a little unwell
How I used to be
How I used to be

Video of Matchbox 20 "Unwell"

Friday, February 18, 2011

SCHOOL-ITIS

I don't know why but I did not want to go to school that day.  It could not have been from fear of not doing something for class.  It was my third grade year and I was still doing fairly well in school  Grades would not start to falter until my freshman year.  I had a lovely teacher who was as nice and patient as you could ever hope for.  Possibly she was the best teacher I had through my elementary school years.

Ms. Bledsoe was beautiful.  She had brunette hair that she wore in a flip like Mary Tyler Moore wore hers in The Dick Van Dyke Show.  She had dark eyes that I do not ever remember being cold or penetrating.  They were soft eyes that always showed a smile in them.  She loved teaching.  Anyone could see that she did.  She treated all of the kids the same by treating all of us as special.  That is a very difficult thing to pull off but I believe she did it.  There was a lot of teaching to be done in the third grade.   A lot of new things that could be difficult to learn.  She taught us how to write in cursive.  I can't really gauge on how well she taught cursive since I print everything except my signature and my signature is not very easy to read.  In mathematics it was her job to teach us the different base systems.  Starting with the base ten system she would move on to trying to explain to us the base twelve and the base two systems.  In english she taught us the basic start as to how a sentence is diagrammed.  I still don't know why I had to learn this skill because as far as I know I never use it.  I use the skill of sentence diagramming so much that I don't have a clue as to how it is done.  She taught it though and she made sure that we accomplished what she expected us to during that year.

I had woke up that morning and decided that school was not going to fit into my agenda for the day.  For some reason I just did not feel like going.  I went downstairs and told mom that I was not feeling well.  I had a terrible headache and I didn't think I should go to school that day.  I don't think she was buying it at first and in reality I don't think she ever really did buy into it.  She decided however that I could stay home from school if I was sick and so I began my day by lying in my bed in my room.

Being sick from school when you are not really sick can get tedious after awhile.  Back in those days most houses had just one television and there certainly were not televisions in kid's rooms.  So I laid there and read for a while until I tired of it.  Then I tried to play a board game or two against myself and found out that it wasn't much fun when you are the loser as well as the winner.  I worked my way downstairs and laid on the couch.  Here I could watch television while I was being sick.  Daytime television with mom though were soap operas.  Not very exciting for a third grade boy.  I tired of watching those silly shows quickly.  I had to find something to occupy my time and get rid of the boredom of being sick.

Mom was babysitting during the days to help bring in some much needed money for the family.  There was one of her children that she was taking care of in a playpen in the living room.  This was something I could do.  I could help mom babysit while I was being sick for a day.  I started to entertain my moms ward by making faces and doing funny sounds to make the kid laugh.  As the morning progressed into the second hour I found myself having to work harder to keep the child's attention.  This was my downfall.

I found myself standing on my head facing the playpen and making noise when I heard my named yelled from the kitchen.  Mom had caught me doing some very un-sick like things.  When a person has a headache that is bad enough to keep them home from school, I guess you don't really expect to see them in the living room standing on their head laughing at a baby.  I was caught and I was sunk.  I was told to go up and dress for school.  I obviously was not sick enough to stay home.  I went upstairs and dressed slowly and came back down.  Mom took me up to the school to be sure the teacher had a good explanation of why I had not shown up earlier.

We got to the school and took the short walk to Ms Bledsoe's classroom door.  Her room was the first door as you entered the school so the walk was far to short for my taste.  Mom made me explain to the teacher that I had said I wasn't feeling well because of a headache but that it had miraculously disappeared.   After I finished my explanation mom took it upon herself to embellish on what had happened that morning.  She told Ms Bledsoe the whole story right up to and including my head stand in the living room.

Ms Bledsoe stood and looked at me with those tender eyes of hers.  She then explained that perhaps I was sick but it wasn't from a headache.  I was sick with a little known illness call "schoolitis".  Apparently schoolitis manifests itself when  a kid gets bored at school or just tired of going.  It can attack at anytime and it can have far reaching consequences in the future.  Schoolitis was a dangerous disease that was best nipped in the bud before it made itself at home in my body.  If not taken care of immediately and purged from my system it could effect me the rest of my life and even turn into"workitis".  She was glad we had caught it soon enough and invited me to go into the class while she talked to mom a little more.  I went in and sat at my little desk while all the other kids were taking advantage of the teacher being out of the room and talking to each other.  I just sat there thinking about the huge mistake I had made that morning.

Later in the day while we were outside at recess, Ms Bledsoe came over to talk to me.  She said she noticed that by the way I was playing that we must have rid myself of all of the schoolitis.  We should keep an eye out so that I wouldn't be attacked by the deadly disease again.  I nodded my head and went back to playing.

Now I wasn't a stupid kid.  I knew there wasn't such a thing as schoolitis in reality.  I knew that Ms Bledsoe was doing her job and teaching me that school is important and it can make for a more exciting day then staying at home lying around in your bed all day long.  I learned the lesson she was trying to teach me.  I learned it well.  It seemed that the next few times when I actually did get sick on a school day the first question that mom would ask me was it shoolitis or not.

I was glad when mom finally let that go and seemed to forget about the danger of me contracting schoolitis again.  I was also very glad that Ms Bledsoe had the wisdom to teach me about shoolitis.  The lesson she taught me that day has stayed with me ever since and I don't have to worry about contracting workitis now that I am out of the schoolitis stage of life.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

OLD BLUE

When I had saved enough money to buy my very first car I was excited.  Barb and I had been using her seventy one Nova for transportation for more than a year and my future father in law was getting anxious for me to take the reigns as far as driving was concerned in our relationship.  Even though we never told him I think he suspected the fact that I had been taking the reigns driving but I was driving that precious Nova instead of a car of my own.

I began looking in the newspaper want ads for a car to buy.  I had a very short but detailed list of what I wanted in a car.  First off it had to be a Chevy.  Barb's dad was a Chevy man his whole life and if I came calling on his daughter in anything but a Chevy my value in his eyes would drop dramatically.  It also had to be one of Chevrolet's hot looking cars.  Back in seventy four Chevy had a few of those.  The Malibu, The Nova and the Camaro all would fit the bill nicely as far as I was concerned.  I also thought it would be nice if the engine had a little gumption to it.  A sound all it's own that was not exactly quiet and sounded something like a dragster over at the I-70 dragstrip would be nice.  If it had a stereo already installed then that would be a bonus.  I felt like I was capable of installing a stereo loud enough to overcome the sound of the engine in my car.

As I searched the ads in the paper I came across the perfect choice.  It was a nineteen seventy Chevy Chevelle that had an asking price of $850.  The Chevelle was the same thing as their Malibu but a hopped up version of it.  They were nice cars that weren't too big but still had enough room for the long legs that would drive it and plenty of room for the goal of marathon make out sessions with Barb.  Barb and I decided it would give her father, Harry, a sign of respect from me if I took him along to check out the car with me.  So on a cloudy muggy afternoon before dinner Harry and I set off for the used car dealer and that magnificent Chevelle that was waiting for me.

I had called the dealership earlier and told them to be expecting us.  When we pulled into the lot on Highway 50 the Chevelle was sitting right out in the middle ready for a test run.  It was as black as black can be.  It had two racing stripes starting at the front bumper and going over the roof of the car to the rear bumper.  The body suggested that the car had met other cars or foreign objects in a violent matter but all the fenders were still on it.  I was in love with it as soon as I stepped out of Harry's car. 

As I walked around the car the salesman began giving me his pitch on the car.  Good car that ran good.  Very dependable and even though the gas mileage wasn't great you could get to where you were going very fast somehow saving me gas in the drive.  I could see that point easily as I was blinded by love at that moment in time.  Harry walked slowly over to it with his hands in his front jeans pockets.  He stood at the side of the car and gave that look that only Harry could give.  Yes it was a Chevy or had been at one point in time.  The back end was jacked up with those old air shocks making the front of the car point almost straight to the ground.  Harry looked at it slowly without moving.  His head moved from the front of the car to the back of it and his expression did not change.  His lips were straight and tight and the only words he could muster in a somewhat incredulous tone of voice were "So this is it?"

After the salesman offered to start it up and let us listen to the how it ran Harry shrugged his shoulders and nodded his head.  I could see his thoughts as sure as if he had said them. "Sure... why not?  I wonder if it will start..." and so forth.  I could tell that this car was not impressing Harry in the least bit.  The salesman started the car and it sounded just as I imagined it would.  It was loud and rough.  The car rocked from side to side as the salesman punched the accelerator.  It was then that I noticed Harry had quit looking at my car and his eyes were wandering around the rest of the lot.  I was still believing that Harry would love this car and give me and it a blessing. I was in serious denial.

As the salesman continued to talk to me about the car, Harry started wandering around the lot.  He was gone for about five minutes when he came back and asked the salesman about a car way back in the corner.  We walked back to an old sixty seven Impala.  It was a tank of a car.  It looked to be half again the width of the Chevelle and twice as long.  There were four doors hanging on it and the front fender was dented just a bit.  The paint on it was sky blue or had been at one point in time.  It had faded like a pair of old blue jeans so that you could tell it was blue but you couldn't exactly figure out what shade of blue it was.

Harry popped the hood on the car and checked the oil.  The dipstick came out with oil so clear you could have used it on your hair.  He checked the transmission fluid and it was in a pristine state as well.  The engine in the car was a small straight six cylinder that became lost in the spacious area where a huge V8 would fit nicely.  Harry looked at the salesman and without even glancing at me told him we would give him $200 for it.  The salesman looked at the car and informed us it had just arrived a day or two earlier and a price hadn't been set on it.  He would go talk to his boss.

While he was gone Harry told me that the Chevelle wouldn't last a year but this Impala was a real car.  This was his choice for his daughter to be taxied around in on Friday and Saturday nights.  I knew that I was sunk.  Harry had his mind made up and to be honest, I trusted his judgment without doubt.  I knew that I would be driving this car home if the price was anywhere near $800.  Harry had a smile on his face because I think he realized exactly what I was thinking.  The Chevelle was gone and the Impala was in.  My love affair with the black car had last barely thirty minutes.

The salesman eventually returned and gave us news that neither of us were expecting.  They would let the Impala go for $200 just as Harry had asked.  Harry shook the man's hand then motioned for me to shake his hand as well.  I did so without much enthusiasm.  We went into the office and did all the paper work that the state of Missouri requires.  I wrote a check for the full amount and the keys were handed over to me.  I followed Harry back to his house with a rather heavy heart that night.  I was driving a "grandpa car".  It wasn't meant for a teenager to drive.  It just wasn't right.  I could not have been more wrong.

Harry's wisdom that evening gave me a car that would last for years and earned a nickname of "Old Blue".  Harry even referred to it as Old Blue when he would ask if I was keeping maintenance up on it.  It was easy to work on as you could sit in the engine compartment with the engine and have plenty of room to work.  You could actually reach the oil filter without sliding under the car for oil changes.  The gas mileage on the Impala was unreal.  It gave me twice the mileage that Barb's hot Nova would bring us.  It crossed the state back and forth several times without coming close to breaking down.  I eventually put a stereo in it and the engine was so quiet I did not have to crank it up at all.  I would eventually take the back seat out of it at given times and be able to haul things that a small pickup could haul.  There was so much room in that car that Barb's dog, Babs, would stay underneath it and walk around while were were out driving.

Looking back it was the best car dollar for dollar I ever owned.  When I eventually got the urge to buy a brand new car that had never been driven before, Old Blue was still running as fine as the day I had bought it.  I went to the lot and bought Old Blue's replacement.  "NEW Blue" was a Chevy Malibu, the same model of car that the old Chevelle was based on.  It was not jacked up in the back though and did not have a huge engine.  It ran quietly and smoothly.  I finally had my Malibu and it looked like a car my dad would drive.  I had indeed grown up I guess.

I eventually sold Old Blue later that year.  I sold it to a kid named Jack at the office who was just starting his independent life.  He couldn't afford a lot for a car so I sold him Old Blue for $200.  It was the same amount I had paid for it.  In a way Old Blue was a free car for all those years that I drove it.  We don't know what came of Old Blue though.  Jack was driving it on the highway one night and ran out of gas.  While he was walking to a gas station Old Blue disappeared and was no where in sight when Jack came back with a container of gasoline.  I think it is best that I don't know how the end came for that old car especially if it died in an accident that tore it to shreds.  This way I can keep Old Blue in my memory exactly as I saw it that first time in the used car parking lot and I can still love it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

ROYAL STADIUM ROCK

August the second, nineteen hundred and seventy three.  It was a day that thousands of people in the Kansas City area will never forget.  They shouldn't forget it anyway.  For the first time since The Beatles came to Kansas City there was going to be a happening at the new stadium.

Royals Stadium had opened in April of seventy three with a baseball game.  It was a brand new state of the art stadium that probably created lust in the hearts of millions of baseball fans across the country.  The stadium was built as a baseball stadium.  Across the parking lot waiting to open at the end of August sat Arrowhead Stadium which was built as a football stadium.  It is fairly common place today for a city to have two stadiums for each of the sports but back in seventy three it was the first of its kind.  Everything was indeed up to date in Kansas City.  Actually things were way ahead of being up to date in Kansas City with the building of the Truman Sports Complex.  It was the crown jewel of the city and they wasted no time in showing it off as often as they could.

In July of that year it was announced that a concert would be held in the stadium.  It would be the first of dozens of concerts held in either Royals or Arrowhead.  This was the concert that would open the door to stadium rock in Kansas City.  Although tickets were rather pricey at six dollars a head, the tickets went fast.  They estimated over thirty four thousand tickets were sold to the event.

The line up was a good one that I could not refuse.  A Frank Zappa created group called Reuben and the Jets would open the evening.  Leslie West and his new group The Wild West Show would follow.  I had seen Leslie West with his old group, Mountain, and had a couple of his albums.  The man could play guitar.  The appearance of West would be worth close to the six dollar price tag.  After West performed, Marc Bolin and T-Rex were scheduled to appear.  The headliner was the act that caught my eye though.  Three Dog Night was going to perform in the stadium.  My heart nearly stopped when I heard that they were the headliners for the evening.

Three Dog Night had been without a doubt my favorite band up to this time.  The arrangements they did for songs were unbelievable.  Most times they would put the original songwriter/artist to shame when they did a rendition of a song.  Randy Newman's "Mama Told Me Not To Come" was a number one hit for Three Dog Night.  They made the song come alive while Newman's rendition was slow and lazy and would put you to sleep.  Three Dog Night bettered other artist with their arrangements as well.  The out did Nilsson on the hit "One".  They put Elton John to shame when they recorded "Lady Samantha" and "Your Song".  The biggest one they did though was to take a small silly country song by Hoyt Axton and make it into one of the top selling singles of all time.  "Joy To The World" became Three Dog Night's signature song.  This was going to be a night for the ages.

I asked my then girlfriend and future wife, Barb, to go with me.  She had not been to too many concerts and I had been trying to teach her about the world of music since we began dating back in May of that same year.  This was the chance of a lifetime for her.  Little did we know at that time that we would go together to see Three Dog Night eight more times during our lifetime together.  Each time we saw them they just kept getting better it seemed.  We were even able to take our son at the age of two to see them one year.  It was important to me that Brett see these guys perform, even if he would not remember it.

We got to the Stadium and picked some seats behind the first base dugout.  I always preferred sitting on the first base side for some reason.  Since I was a kid every time we would go to a game it seemed dad got tickets on the first base side so it was natural for me to go there on this night.

During the course of the evening the stadium took on a carnival like atmosphere.  I saw a man juggling down on the field during the show.  Frisbees were flying all over the place long lost from the hands of their original owner.  A couple of beach balls began to be bounced into every corner of the stadium.  One of them even made it to the upper deck.  A couple were married that evening over at third base between acts.  When I reminisce about the night I often wonder if the marriage was blessed by rock and roll or cursed by it.   At any rate it would make one great wedding album of pictures.

After Marc Bolin had left the stage you could feel the excitement start to build.  People were ready.  The night had been predicted to be a troublesome one with so many young people gathering in one place for a rock spectacle.  Things were calm though.  There wasn't any violence at all.  People were relaxed and happy.  I admit this could be due to the heavy layer of weed smoke hanging over the stadium like a fog on an early San Fransisco morning.  I didn't get high that night but could have easily achieved it if I had been in the upper deck.

When I saw the limousine drive from the bullpen to the back of the stage I started hitting Barb on the shoulder.  There they were.  They were in that car.  The whole place was starting to calm down with anticipation of the lead act on what had been a wonderful night.

Three Dog Night depended upon harmony vocals in their songs.  The first time I heard them sing live though, it was awful.  The three of them could not hear themselves singing up on the stage and their voice went in three different directions.  It wasn't long before the sound people had the problem fixed and suddenly the three singers sounded like a well tuned piano playing a grandiose concerto.  They went through all of their hits plus a lot of songs from the new album they had just released.  At the end of the concert a fireworks display went out over the stadium.  The night was over.  I had finally seen Three Dog Night and Barb had been there to see them with me.  Personally, I think she was impressed by the quality of music during the course of the night.

People left as politely as they had arrived.  There was no trouble to report from the concert.  The reviews could only say good things about the performers and the crowd.  The city fathers had to be a little disseminated I think because they were so sure that their predictions of violence and damage to the stadium would come true..  Not one of those things happened.  What did happen was that some frisbees were thrown around, some beach ball were tossed about, a couple pledged their lives to each other and stadium rock arrived in Kansas City. This concert would be the forerunner of such acts as the Rolling Stones, Micheal Jackson, The Beach Boys, The Doobie Brothers, Chicago, The Allman Brothers Band and a host of others.

Concerts aren't held at the stadiums much anymore.  The era of stadium rock has slowly died out.  From my experience a stadium concert brings an atmosphere to the show unlike anything an indoor concert can provide.  You feel free, you feel the music and you feel the hypnotic linkage of the crowd to each other.

This concert blew me away.  All it did was make me wish I had been old enough to go to Woodstock to see what a real outdoor concert would have been like.

Tears In Heaven - Eric Clapton

Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven
Will it be the same
If I saw you in heaven
I must be strong, and carry on
Cause I know I don't belong
Here in heaven

Would you hold my hand
If I saw you in heaven
Would you help me stand
If I saw you in heaven
I'll find my way, through night and day
Cause I know I just can't stay
Here in heaven

Time can bring you down
Time can bend your knee
Time can break your heart
Have you begging please
Begging please

(instrumental)

Beyond the door
There's peace I'm sure.
And I know there'll be no more...
Tears in heaven

Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven
Will it be the same
If I saw you in heaven
I must be strong, and carry on
Cause I know I don't belong
Here in heaven

Cause I know I don't belong
Here in heaven

Video of Eric Clapton singing "Tears In Heaven"

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

HOUSE FIRE ON THE BLOCK

The ranch house up the street was rather wore down.  It needed paint, new windows and some grass in the yard.  I didn't know too much about the people who lived there except from the stories I had heard around the neighborhood.  At one time it was a whole family who lived there.  There was a father and mother and numerous children all close in age to each other.

It did not seem to be a happy family.  More than once the wife was found sitting out on the curb next to the street crying and not knowing what to do.  She took a lot of beatings from her husband but always would refuse a ride to the hospital.  On occasion a neighbor would call the police but as far as I know she never pressed charges against her husband.  She continued to go back when he would let her into the house and the scene would be replayed in the next month or so.

Meanwhile the children were growing up and getting to the age of getting into trouble.  The kids starting getting into a little trouble by doing little things.  They would sit on their bikes in the middle of the street and not move for traffic trying to get by.  They became loud and boisterous cursing at each other and getting into fights among themselves.  When the fights started to progress to others outside the family you would see a police officer take one of them off in a car once in a while.

Soon the kids began cursing and making gestures at random to their neighbors for insisting that they not ride the bikes through front yards.  This progressed to breaking into a car every now and then and stealing something out of it whether it was worth anything or not.  Although no one knew for sure it was the kids doing the stealing we all took it for granted that it was them.  During this whole time the mother continued to be beaten upon and found sitting outside the house even on cold or rainy nights and still refusing offers from the police or rides to the hospital.

One day something changed.  No one had seen the mother for quite a while.  Personally I wondered if she was still alive or not.  The rumor eventually came to be that she had finally left her family.  She had been beaten severely one night and the police had taken her to the hospital where she decided she would not return to the ranch house up the street.

The kids were still there though and now they had grown to the point of being of age to drive cars.  They drove the cars fast up and down the street.  The cars were loud too.  Not loud like today with the thumping beat of bass music coming from them but noisy in the sense that there didn't see to be a muffler on any of the cars.  We had young kids living on the block about this time and it was a danger to let them out in the front yards while cars were racing up and down the street.

The stealing of things from cars became more prevalent and soon the police were hauling the kids away for more serious crimes than in the past.  When the kids would come back from where ever they had been taken to they would receive a loud curse filled lecture from their father often followed by a beating.  It did not take long for the kids to slowly disappear from the neighborhood one by one.   After a while it was just the man living in his house all alone.

I am not sure if he had a job or not.  I don't recall ever seeing him leave for work on a consistent basis.  You would often see him come home from the store with a huge case of beer.  It seemed like he was sitting up in that house all alone probably watching television and drinking himself to death.  As the kids left their father and moved on to different parts of the city things quieted down on the block.  The racing cars were gone.  All the late night cursing was gone and the beaten woman with no self esteem did not sit out in the rain anymore.  He had finally run everyone in his life away from him and it seemed his only friend was the beer.

The house caught on fire in the middle of the night during a cold snap in the fall.  No one really knew the house was burning until the fire trucks woke us up from our sleep.  All of the neighbors gathered in the street to watch as the fire grew out of control.  It began to take the shape of a homecoming bonfire on a college campus before long.  The firefighters began to change their strategy to protect the houses next to the inferno to keep the damage to a minimum.  The house burned for a couple of hours before the firefighters contained it and snuffed it out.

Word began leaking out through the neighborhood rumor lines that the husband had been in the house at the time of the fire and had died.  There were several different scenarios in which it was said he died.  One was that he was running a space heater because the electricity had been turned off and it had caught fire while he was sleeping in his chair.  Another tale included the space heater and a sleeping man in his chair asleep but added a cigarette that had fallen out of his hands while he slept and starting the fire.  Still another told the story about how he was sitting in his chair smoking a cigarette when he had a heart attack and died the dropping cigarette again being the culprit in starting the fire.

Any three of those explanations could be true.  The one thing that all three have in common though is that a man died while sitting in a cold house without electricity while smoking a cigarette.  The one factor that makes it a tragedy is that he died in that house alone after having destroyed his family by pushing them away through his violent temperament.

The house was razed and rebuilt.  On the lot stands a nice looking house now with a family living in it that seems to be everything the previous owners were not.  They are nice, friendly and are well liked in the neighborhood.  It would seem that the building of a new house with a new family would erase the past but it can not.

While it is easy to sit and say that the father brought it upon himself doesn't make it any more right.  It just makes the story of a sad family that much sadder.  I am not sure how long it took to find his kids to let them know their father was dead.  I know we didn't see any of them for at least three days after the fire.

Yes the father did bring it all on himself.  That fact being known doesn't change the fact that no one should have to die alone abandoned by everyone he knew.  Not the best of us nor the worst of us should face an ending such as the one this man faced.

Monday, February 14, 2011

JOE STARTS A LIST

Before I came to my current place of employment in December of seventy nine, I worked for a year at a business that expected you to give them all the time you could spare.  I found myself working sixty hour weeks including Saturdays and Sundays along with others in the Engineering department.  As you can quite imagine these weren't the best of working conditions and so there began to be a high turnover rate of personnel in the department about the time I started working there.

They were losing some good engineers under these conditions.  One of the engineers had scientifically figured out the best way to shoot a rubber band.  He had developed a shooting style that made the rubber band act as a gyroscope in all three dimensions enabling the projectile to travel at a very fast speed and with amazing accuracy.  This is still one of the most fascinating things I have ever seen someone develop and work out in an engineering department.

Every once in a while on a Saturday or Sunday a rubber band shootout would break out over the partitions that separated our cubicles.  When you were hit by a properly shot rubber band the sting would stay with you for awhile.  While we had worked out other things to derive pleasure from during the long working hours, the rubber band shoot was always on top of things to do.

The long hours that created boredom and tiredness also prompted a lot of teasing between us at others expense.  It never was taken very seriously as we all knew that joking was a part of the deal.  Most of the engineers were quick witted enough to shoot a dagger of words right back at the one who had thrown a funny insult at them a half of a second before.  It was an excersize in logic and quick wittiness that kept our brains from falling asleep on those long weekends.

New engineers were coming in to replace those leaving on a fairly consistent basis.  Before long I was sitting in the engineering department as fifth in seniority of about fifteen to twenty people.  It was a good feeling in a way but I was slowly getting burned out by the long hours as those who had gone before me had.  It was not a good working situation.

Joe began working in the department when I had been there about eight months.  He seemed like a nice guy and took to our system of working fairly well.  That all changed after he had been there for about two weeks.  On his second weekend of work he received his first verbal shot from over a cubicle.  It offended him much more than any of us could imagine.  Mike (of Datsun Keys fame) had thrown out a joke at Joe's expense.  Joe immediately told Mike that he was on the list.  I looked at Mike and he returned my glance with a shrug.

It wasn't until the next week when we found out what being on the list meant.  It meant that Joe would have nothing to do with you.  He would not acknowledge that you existed by not talking to you or asking questions of you or even working with you.  Mike was at the top of the list but others would soon join him.

The list was a piece of paper taped to Joe's drafting table.  Mike's name was at the top followed by Maury, Lloyd, Lanny, John among others.  As the list grew it became apparent that getting projects finished that Joe was working on were becoming more and more difficult.  It was starting to get the notice of the head of engineering that something was wrong in the department when we were still working extremely long hours but some projects were slipping.

It wasn't long before Lanny and Mike left the company and new blood was brought in.  When Lanny and Mike left Joe would cross their names off the list.  The only way to get off of the list was to leave the company where Joe worked.  As the new engineers came in and started working with Joe projects would start to move along again until the list started building up.  Then once again projects would start slipping.

It was on a Saturday when I finally made the list.  About three o'clock in the afternoon one of the infamous rubber band fights broke out.  Everyone was involved in it including Joe.  The problem was that no one had taught Joe the proper way to shoot a rubber band and so his shots were coming off slow and curving away from his target while the rest of us were zinging each other with hard shots.  The fatal moment came when I saw Joe looking in another direction with a rubber band and I let a zinger go at him.  It struck him on his neck and his hand immediately went to cover the sharp pain.  He look at me with stern hate filled eyes and informed me that I had just made the list as he wrote my name down on the paper on his table.

Frankly I was surprised it had taken me so long to make the list.  Making Joe's list had become almost a badge of honor secretly among all of us.  Now I had my badge of honor and did not have to worry about working with Joe or talking to him the rest of the time I was there.

Eventually the head of Engineering asked a few of us into his office for a discussion on why projects were slipping.  Although we really did not want to rat Joe out we had no choice.  We explained about the list and how we had all come to be on the list.  We went further to talk about what the consequences were of being on the list.  We were thanked for our information and dismissed from the meeting.  Later that day Joe was dismissed from the company.  On his way out the door Joe gave one last volley at us.  He informed all of us that we were now on his permanent list and if we ever found ourselves at the same company as him again the list would still be enforced.  He then quietly turned and walked out the door.

Two weeks later I found out where everyone was leaving the company for.  They were all coming to work for my current employer.  The company was growing at break neck speed with government contracts and there was an opening for me if I just came over and did the paper work.  I decided to do so as I was tired of the long hours that went unappreciated from where I was at the time.

I came over here and saw Mike, Lanny, John and some others that I had worked with in the last year.  There was no Joe here though.  When I started working there, one of the first questions asked was how Joe was doing.  When I told them he had been fired because of the list they all just shook their heads agreeing it was just a matter of time.

Joe never came to work here and I never heard of anyone who was on the list running into him after that.  I can only assume that the list is still in place somewhere and if I ever find myself working with him, I won't have to worry about talking to him.

This is a sad story when I stop and think back on the events of that year.  What a miserable existence it must be pushing people out of your life instead of bringing them into your life.  I sincerely hope Joe came to terms with his list and found a happier way to work and to gain friends.

Friday, February 11, 2011

AMANDA

Amanda was ten years old when she and her nine year old sister signed up for baseball at the local YMCA.  I had decided to help in coaching duties that year and the girls were assigned to our team.  Amanda's sister was a tom boy deluxe.  She could throw the ball and knew how to use her glove.  Her skills at the plate weren't too good but a little work with her would fix that.

Amanda on the other hand did not posses the skills her sister did.   It took me all of ten minutes working with her and a baseball to know that this was going to be an adventure for the both of us.  I started out with the basics teaching her the proper way to throw a ball.  Things like taking a step when making a throw and how to throw to an intended target instead of throwing the ball and seeing where it would land with in a radius of where she was standing.  I taught her how to catch a ball with a glove.  She eventually came to the conclusion that a glove made a better shield to protect her then a catching implement.  I could deal with that as long as she knocked the ball down when it came her direction so she wouldn't be chasing it fifty feet behind her every time It came towards her.

I had conceded the job of manager of the team to another father.  My thinking was that he would have to deal with the paper work and make sure each player got the proper amount of playing time.  He would also be responsible for getting all of the equipment to the field.  This left me more time to do what I really wanted to do.  I wanted to spend time with the kids and have fun with them.  The only drawback to this was that the manager set the starting lineup and positions that each player would play each game.

This was not a problem until the second game of the season.  He had sent the kids out to start the game when a tragedy waiting to happen caught my eye.  Amanda was standing on second base.  I don't mean to say she was in the position of second base but she was actually standing on the base.  I casually walked over to the manager and suggested that he might want to move Amanda from the infield to the outfield.  When he asked why I answered matter of factly that if she played the infield she was going to get hurt.  He thought about it a moment and swapped positions with the center fielder who happened to be my son.  Fair enough in my mind.  Brett had played no other position except second base during his young career.  Amanda would be safe.

During the game a few balls were hit out to Amanda.  She did what I had done many times while I was growing up.  She would move out of the way of the ball coming at her and then have to run back towards the fence to gather it before throwing it back to the infield.  The other team was scoring a few runs on Amanda's fear of the baseball.

I decided I would work with Amanda on catching fly balls.  This would be my project for the summer.  I started out the next week by standing next to her and tossing the baseball into the air like a fly ball.  We worked on how to the the glove.  We worked on getting to the ball instead of away from it.  I taught her to stand her ground and not let the ball intimidate her.  Things were moving along pretty well.

Over the next few weeks I began hitting her small fly balls from off of a bat.  She started to seem to be getting the idea of catching the ball instead of running away from it.  We worked on this over and over again as I tried to build her confidence in herself.  I had to hit the balls pretty close to where she was standing.  While she had stopped running away from the ball she still wasn't running to the ball to catch it.

I started moving her further and further out from me as I continued to build her confidence up.  Before either of us knew it she was actually in the outfield and I was hitting long fly balls to her.  If the balls were close enough to her she had a fifty percent chance of catching them.  This was much better than where she had started from.  She still couldn't hit and she couldn't run.  Her throwing arm was not exactly strong or precise but she was making progress.  I was starting to feel good about how far she had come during the course of the season.

When the team met on the field to play the third game from the end of the season I decided to give Amanda some more one on one time with the fly balls.  She was standing in left field as I stood next to the back stop and tried to hit fly balls as close to her as I could.  Things were going pretty well until I miss hit one of the balls.  I had been tossing them up with with my left hand then hitting them out to Amanda as the ball fell in front of me.   Then as I was swinging at one of the baseballs I did not get the bat under it..  I hit the ball squarely on the sweet spot of the bat and the baseball took off like it was shot out of a cannon.  It was a line drive not getting more then ten feet off of the ground and it was moving fast.  It was also moving directly at Amanda.  The thought of dread immediately entered my mind as I watched the ball close in on her.  She held her glove out in front of her palm up.  She stood her ground as the hard little white sphere closed in on her.  She did not run.  Actually she did not move at all.  She stood there waiting for what I am sure she thought would be a good catch.

The ball finally arrived and it hit Amanda's glove.  She did not catch the ball though.  Not with her gloved hand anyway.  The ball hit the heel of her glove and ricocheted up to her face slicing through the skin on her cheek bone.  As I stood and watched everything seemed to be going very slow until that moment when contact between ball and face occurred.  Amanda then dropped like a rock to the ground.   She dropped fast and she dropped hard into a heap out in the grass.

I dropped the bat and ran as fast as I could out to her.  I saw the blood oozing from her face and I felt sick.  I had caused injury to her.  I picked her up and ran carrying her in my arms back to the shade of a tree behind the backstop.  I laid her down gently as her mother came over to see what had happened.  Someone gave me a towel and I started to gently wipe the blood away from the wound.  It did not look like it would need stitches.  As I sat there trying to comfort Amanda while tears were coming from her eyes she looked down at her uniform and asked, "Did I get blood on my uniform?"  That was what she was concerned with.  The uniform was important to her and she needed to look good in it.  Blood on a uniform would take away from the stylish factor it displayed while she wore it.  No concern for her face, just a deep concern on whether the uniform would look good on her.  At that moment I remember thinking that a boy or Amanda's sister would be proud to have blood on their uniform.  It would be a badge of honor.  But to Amanda it was a flaw.

Amanda did not play the next game but did come back for the final game of the season.  We sent her out to play right field that day.  As the game was beginning to start I glanced out at Amanda.  She was not quite in right field.  She was standing in the right field area but on the out of play side of the foul line.  I walked out to her and gently told her that she had to play the position in fair territory.  She looked up at me with just a hint of fear in her eyes.  She then stepped over the line and stood only inches in fair territory.  She played the whole game like that and did a lot of running after baseballs that were actually hit into right field.  After chasing down each ball she always returned to her set position just inside fair territory.

Fair enough I thought.  Amanda had earned the right to be a little fearful and play right field the way she wanted to.