Play Ball

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When someone that you love gets into some trouble it is such a horrible feeling, a combination of sorrow, disappointment, anger, confusion. Such an event elicits a desire to rant along with a determination to protect. It involves so many mixed emotions that often make little sense. It induces anxieties and maybe even sleepless nights. Negativity mixed with love for the offender makes for difficult days. Somehow in the long run there is always a way to muddle through.

So it is for me in learning that my Houston Astros have been accused and found guilty of cheating. Their supposed crime is sign stealing during their run to the World Series in 2017. As though the city of Houston has not lost enough through floods and and disappointing football teams, now our hometown heroes have been branded with the scarlet letter of cheating and insinuations that our glorious victory was tainted. It is a stunning accusation that Major League Baseball seems to think has been proven beyond enough doubt to garner severe penalties for the team, including a stiff fine and suspensions of the Manager and General Manager. Now there is an asterisk on all that they have accomplished and a doubt that they would have been champions without cheating.

The team is in a state of turmoil since the General Manager and Manager have been fired. It’s lost one of its best pitchers to the New York Yankees whose pockets are so deep that they are able to buy whatever they want, and the fans are feeling mixed emotions. Some insist that sign stealing is a national pastime that every team does and others think that the whole scandal is a black spot on a city that works hard to be good. It remains to be seen how it will all play out in the end, but I suspect that the road ahead will be difficult for everyone, but not impossible. It’s one of those situations when opportunities to learn from mistakes will either be heeded or not. The team can grow from the experience and continue to thrive or it can ignore what has happened and suffer hard times ahead.

I’m a believer in redemption. We are an imperfect lot that makes mistakes continually throughout our lifetimes. Without forgiveness we would be doomed, but the consequences of our choices matter. So the Astros need to pay their dues and then move on like the champions that I believe they really are. I still have great faith in the team. I don’t believe that they needed any kind of sign stealing to win which makes the so called infraction doubly hard to bear.

In all honesty I still can’t imagine that the scheme actually worked all that well. It would have taken a rapid response for someone to see the sign picked up by the camera and then bang a signal on a garbage can before the pitch was actually thrown. It sounds a bit far fetched to me to think that such a thing happened on a regular basis and it certainly didn’t happen when the team was out of town. I also wonder how something like that was kept silent for so long. People always talk and surely if it was really as rampant as supposed there would have been more than one whistleblower. I still have my doubts and wonder if it’s more a matter of sour grapes. Whatever the case it’s the lingering doubt that will always overshadow everything those incredible athletes achieved.

I will always love my Astros. I’ve watched them in a makeshift stadium and the Astrodome. I’ve seen the days of Nolan Ryan and the Killer B’s. I’ve heard my mother’s radio tuned to every game for years and even witnessed her watching them on the day she died. She was their number one fan and I know that she would never turn her back on them no matter how much they disappointed her. I hope the present day fans will be as loyal. As a city we need to show them that we’ve got their backs but also that we expect them to be more circumspect in the things they do.

I hear that there may also be some problems with the Red Sox for the same kind of reasons. They are my number three favorite team behind the Astros and the Cubs respectively. I hope that they weather the storm well too, because I have a problem with both the Yankees and the Los Angeles Dodgers and their tendencies to throw around money and accusations to reinforce their teams. There is more to our country than the two coasts and it’s time something were done to make it possible for the little guys to do as well as the big shots. Sports has become all about business and money even in colleges and high schools. Little wonder that there is so much desperation to win at any cost.

Spring is coming and I hope that our Astros know that we love them. It’s a long season and they will need a good attitude to survive the onslaught that will no doubt follow them for a time. If they can keep their heads high and demonstrate the integrity that we know they have, they will survive. Play ball!

      

Stranger Things

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We had spent the day touring plantation homes in Louisiana. We were tired and incredibly hungry but seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Our friend announced that we were near a unique and highly rated restaurant so we eagerly headed toward what we hope would be good food and some much needed rest.

In less than fifteen minutes we were in the parking lot of our intended destination. Even though there was a large crowd inside we got seated at a nice table rather quickly. The menu was quirky but yummy sounding, at least at first. While we all perused the many choices I suddenly lost what had only moments before been a voracious appetite. In fact the mere thought of food made me feel nauseous. As everyone in our party eagerly spoke of the selections they had made I announced that I only wanted some tea. The group looked at me with puzzled expressions and asked if I was feeling well.

I explained that I just didn’t feel well and was afraid of putting anything into my now queasy stomach. I mentioned that I might just be a bit car sick, but in truth I wanted to bolt from the place. Something about it made me quite uneasy. There was no logic whatsoever to my feelings.

The waiter came to our table and took the orders looking obviously puzzled at my request for only a glass of ice tea. As the conversation at our table grew more animated I began to feel as though I was somehow not present. My mind wandered and I had an overwhelming desire to escape to the car, but without a valid explanation for my sudden flight response I instead just sat silently listening to the chatter without really hearing a word.

The food arrived and admittedly looked delicious but I had no desire to try any of it. Once the waiter had placed all of the items on the table he asked if we needed anything else. My friend said that she had a question. She wanted to know what the building had once been because it was obvious that it had been repurposed. To my shock and dismay the helpful server told us that the structure had at one time been part of an expanse of slave quarters. He pointed out that there had no doubt been much misery inside its walls. He admitted that he was glad that it was now a happy place where people enjoyed themselves.

Suddenly I understood why my body and my brain were in such a bizarre state. Somehow I had intuited that I was in an evil place. It was as though I was feeling the spirit of the souls who had been enslaved and tortured there. I had to sip some tea to keep from retching. It felt wrong for us to be so casually eating in what to me had been a house of horrors.

I did not say these things to the people who were with me. I suspected that they would either laugh at my silliness or think me bizarre for having such thoughts. Instead I nursed a growing pain in my gut as I imagined the wretched souls who had been enslaved there. It felt disrespectful to be there under circumstances of being entertained and indulged.

I suppose I must have seemed sulky to my friends. There was no logic to my feelings. It was silly of me to believe that I had somehow sensed the hurt of the people who once lived there and yet how might I explain the physical and mental pain that overtook me? My symptoms were real in spite of their superstitious nature.

I don’t believe in ghosts but I do think that I had some kind of sixth sense regarding the nature of that place. I suppose that there will be those who dismiss my state of mind as just a coincidence related more to being tired than any supernatural experience. I, on the other hand, believe that somehow the spirits of those poor desperate people had somehow permeated the walls so much that a part of my brain that has yet to be defined led me to the conclusion that something terrible happened there.

I am an observant person. Maybe there were clues that sent messages to my subconscious without my realizing it. It may not have been spirits at all but instead just an uncanny ability to notice small details on my part. Perhaps I simply put pieces of a puzzle together without being able to connect the dots well enough to understand what I was seeing. Or, maybe I really did feel something, have a kind of communication with those who had suffered.

Whatever happened left me in a state of profound disturbance. I had spent a day marveling at the immense wealth of people who had seemingly thought that owning another human was acceptable. The foundations of those magnificent homes had been built on the backs of labor from people judged to be unworthy of enjoying their God given right to freedom. My body reacted with a sickening revulsion.

Mankind has the capacity to be both magnificent and horrific. I’d like to believe that we humans continue to learn and evolve toward goodness. I’m saddened whenever I see evidence to the contrary. We have made much progress but it’s up to us to be watchful for signs that we have lost our way. Those monuments to a disturbing way of life will be instructive only if we agree that we must never allow such things to happen again.

A Practical Approach

NXA841_open.jpgMy mom was a member of the generation that lived through the Great Depression. She was proud of the fact that nobody in her family ever missed a meal even though their food intake was heavily rationed. Her mother and father owned their home because they had built it room by rooming, paying cash for each addition. They had also turned their backyard into a vegetable garden and they bought a cow. Those things kept food on the table along with my grandfather’s job at a meat packing plant.

My mom often spoke of her mother’s ability to stretch a few items into a decent meal for the ten members of the family. According to my mother my grandmother usually waited until everyone had been served before she took her portion of the dinner. Sometimes that meant that she got her nourishment from sucking on the bones of the roast or eating the head of a fish.

After my father died my mama prided herself in being able to provide us with food on an unbelievably thin budget. She told us that she had learned all of her tricks from her mother and a home economics class that she took in high school. We might have egg sandwiches in our lunch bags or a bowl of pinto beans for dinner but we never went hungry and our menus were healthy. Snacks and sugary items were a grand luxury.

As each month waned our refrigerator would grow more and more empty, sometimes threatening to be devoid of any possible ingredients for dinner. Somehow my mama was a miracle worker who never once failed to come up with something delicious no matter the circumstances.

I never recall seeing a fully stocked pantry or refrigerator in our home. Mama purchased the basics and enforced a firm rule that we were not to eat anything without permission lest she had intended to use it to feed the family. I suppose that’s why I have never forgotten a scene that I saw in the movie Goodbye Columbus in which the main character, a poor college student, opens his wealthy girlfriend’s refrigerator to discover a cornucopia of fruit, vegetables, drinks, and meats filling every corner of the appliance.

I saw that film with my husband Mike when we were still dating. When I mentioned how stunning I thought that scene had been he did not understand. Upon finally visiting his home I realized why it had been so meaningless to him because his own refrigerator was just as well stocked.

In our first days of marriage we struggled to stay financially afloat and I was happy that like my mom I had learned how to stretch our food budget to the max. With the help of both my mother and may mother-in-law who often brought groceries when they visited I got us through our early years without starving.

Once we had both graduated from college and were working at good jobs I was able to fill the shelves of my refrigerator with better and better quality items. Today if one were to open the door of my appliance they would find apples, oranges, berries, tomatoes, avocados, asparagus, squash, cauliflower, broccoli, eggplant, peppers, and a host of other healthy fruits and vegetables along with chicken, fish, eggs, and cheese.

We live in a place where there is a remarkable bounty of food at affordable costs, a luxury that few other countries in the world enjoy. On a recent journey to England I realized that so many things that we take for granted were unavailable in the grocery stores where we shopped. The same was true in Austria and Canada. Our country’s proximity to Central and South America provides us with an almost endless supply of lovely produce. Our own farmers grow the rest.

I have heard of visitors from other countries marveling at our supermarkets. The variety of items that they hold almost overwhelms them. We had a German friend whose mom always wanted to spend time walking the aisles of Randall’s, Kroger, and HEB whenever she came to town. She was like a kid in a candy store.

Sadly there are still those even in this country who don’t have enough income to fill their larders. Like my mother and my grandmother they have to make do and hope that their dollars will stretch far enough to keep everyone fed until the next payday arrives. Sadly they don’t always possess the knowledge about food like my mom did or how to keep things healthy without breaking the bank. They don’t own their homes like my grandparents or have a cow. Nobody has taught them about budgets or nutrition or even how to cook and that is a travesty.

We spend a great deal of time in classrooms teaching our children about things that are interesting but not necessarily useful. Perhaps it’s time to change the way we educate our young. They need lessons in budgeting, shopping for healthy items and learning ways to prepare meals inexpensively. There really is a kind of science to running a healthy kitchen that fewer and fewer people understand. I think that a bit of practical knowledge would not only be well received by students but might also change their lives. We should not take for granted that such things just come naturally.

It would be wonderful if everyone had access to a refrigerator filled with the cornucopia of the one in Goodbye Columbus but since that will probably never happen maybe it’s time we at least gave everyone some guidance as to how to live better with what they have. My mom and my grandmother would have been in the one lowest economic levels but somehow they had the wherewithal to make their meager incomes work. Let’s teach everyone how to do that rather than just assuming that they will figure it out on their own. 

Family Is Everything

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Family has always been everything to me. When I my father died it was family that kept me from feeling frightened and hopeless. I always knew that I could count on my family, both nuclear and extended. The members of my clan have been a source of love and security for all of my life. As I grow older most of the people who once watched over me have gone to their heavenly rewards just as my father did. My role within the family has changed with the flux and flow of deaths and births. Such occasions continually remind me of the importance of family relationships. I suspect that if I had to choose between careers, success and family I would select family hands down.

I was one of three children, the eldest and only girl. I sometimes wondered if my own family might have been larger had my father lived longer. He and my mother were still quite young when he lost his life. I had always dreamed of having a sister and I admittedly fretted that such a thing would never happen. I envied the close relationship that my brothers had that was so different from the one they had with me. They slept in the same bedroom and played ball together. They wrestled with each other and formed a bond that was forged with their common identity of being male. I loved them so but always wondered what it might have been like to have a sister with whom to share secrets and talk of the things that only another woman might understand.

Our extended family was a veritable haven for boys. I had only two female cousins and one them died when she was only sixteen. The other girl and I grew up together and ultimately realized that we were as close to one another as actual sisters might be and so we began to think of ourselves as sister cousins. We can talk for days on end only stopping to sleep and then resuming our conversations as we sip on coffee or tea in the early morning. We text details about our days and make phone calls when we need to talk.

Through my brothers I have two more sisters who married into our family expanding the joy and the love in the most delightful ways. Their sisters and brothers have also become mine. The branches of my family tree are thicker and stronger than ever and new people are added again and again. The circle of life expands so beautifully and satisfies my longing for roots and stability. Being with my family reassures me and soothes the little girl part of my soul that still worries about the prospect of being left all alone.

My husband is an only child. He says that he never really thought about having more siblings. His reality seemed normal and just fine. He had quite loving parents who filled the gaps of his emotional needs. Like me he he has stories of aunts and uncles and cousins from whom he learned the importance of family but he admits that having my brothers as his brothers has enriched his life in ways that he never imagined.

I spent the first days of this new year, new decade with members of my family in admittedly distressing circumstances. Two lights on our family tree were extinguished and we realized how much we would miss them but we also understood the importance of staying close with one another. My brothers and sisters and cousins came together to celebrate not just the lives of our dear ones who were gone but also to renew our commitment to one another. If we made one important resolution it was to keep those bonds of family as tight and important as they have always been.

There was a time in my life when I was so busy that I often went long stretches without any contact with my family. I’d visit my mother once a week and see my brothers at birthday celebrations and on holidays but in between we all had our noses to the grindstone, living but not really taking enough time to check on one another. We relied on our mother to keep us apprised of how everyone was doing. She was the glue that insured that we would not break apart from neglect. She made certain that we would always remember that family was far more important than anything else that we did. While her insistence that we make time for each other was sometimes annoying it was in the end a great gift and one that we now attempt to continue in her absence.

I love every single quirky thing about family. I feel my best when I am with them. I no longer dream of having a sister because I can claim three beautiful women as kindred spirits and sisters in every sense of the word. My brothers are my pride and joy and we share an unbreakable bond that traces its way back to our childhood. My cousins are my anchors just as they have always been. I now have children and grandchildren who fill my life to the very brim. Family is everything and the bigger it is the better it seems to  become.

Faking It

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Minnie Bell rose anxiously from her bed at the end of the trailer worrying that she had somehow overslept on the first day of school. A quick glance at the alarm clock on the shelf at the foot of her sleeping quarters reassured her. It was only five in the morning and she had plenty of time before she had to depart.

It would be a day of firsts, the first time at middle school, the first time that both of her parents would not accompany her to meet the new teachers, the first time that her home was a twenty one foot trailer instead of the beautiful house where she had once lived. Somehow she dreaded the whole experience but school had always brought her joy and she needed  joy more than ever.

The summer had been difficult for Minnie Bell. Her father had been driving home from work when it happened, a freak accident really, something that never should have happened but did. The deer jumped in front of his car from nowhere. There was no way to stop or swerve without hurting another driver.  The huge animal flew into the air like a missile when he was hit and then returned to earth with such force that it broke the windshield of the car and ramming its rack of antlers into her father’s heart. Death was inevitable and instant the officer told Minnie and her mom. Daddy probably didn’t feel a thing.

The funeral and all of the days after that had been a blur. Minnie Bell could not imagine life without her father, the man who had christened her with a moniker that literally made people laugh. Hers was a regal name he convinced her, one that had once belonged to his great great grandmother, a strong woman with toughness and gentleness rolled up into one very tiny package according to family lore. “Bear yourself proudly, Minnie Bell,” he had commanded her as though her silly name was both a great gift and a responsibility.

Minnie Bell thought of how she and Mama had ended up living in an RV park inside the tiny trailer as she stowed away her bed linens on the upper bunk and transformed the bed into a table with benches on both sides. Her mother had delivered the bad news of their situation after spending the day “taking care of business.” The family finances were strained for now and they would have to make some changes for a time. “Soon enough we will be in a better situation,” Mama promised, “but for now we need to sell the house. We’ll have a little adventure living in our travel trailer. It will be fun. We’ll rent a space in the RV park near your school. I’ll get a job and maybe even go back to school myself. It will be our little bit of excitement.”

During the summer things had been fun. It was like an eternal camping trip. Mama worked in the office of the RV park and Minnie Bell walked dogs and did odd jobs for the mostly elderly people who lived there. They were all so nice. They taught Mama how to keep the systems inside the trailer working efficiently. They showed her how to get good television reception and how to make the most of the free Wifi in the park. They often invited Minnie Bell and her mother to dinner and one lady even made some new clothes for Minnie Bell to wear to school.

Minnie Bell and her mother had slowly adjusted to life without her father but as she prepared for a new school year a sadness and sense of foreboding overwhelmed her. Everything was so different and she did not want to talk about it with anyone. She hoped that she might be able to just fake it, not mention that her father had died or she had moved or any of it. She just wanted to pretend that nothing had happened.

Minnie Bell filled a bowl with cereal and sat quietly at the table worrying as her mother stirred in the bed at the other end of the trailer. She sat up and smiled at Minnie Bell across the space. “Hey, sweetie, are you ready for a grand new school year?’ she smiled as though there was nothing strange about the two of them living in cramped quarters with a future so uncertain that both of them often had nightmares.

Minnie Bell returned a weak smile for her mother. She would pretend that she was happy because she didn’t want Mama to have anymore worries. “I’m excited!” she lied. “I can’t wait to see my friends and meet my new teachers.”

Her mother was beaming now. The two of them bumped into one another as they bustled about the trailer getting ready for the new reality. Minnie Bell donned the outfit that the neighbor in the trailer next door had sewn for her. She gathered the school supplies that the residents of the park had surprised her with inside a brand new backpack. Mama handed her money to buy her lunch just for that day and then as Minnie Bell walked down the metal stairs of the trailer she was greeted by a crowd of well wishing neighbors who had gathered to take first day school pictures and give her hugs for good luck.

Minnie Bell wanted to just stay with the wonderful people who had supported her and her mother all summer long but now it was time to face the moment that she had most dreaded. She thought of her father and could almost hear him urging her to hold her head high and be as tough as her namesake had been. She looked at Mama who was so genuinely and hopefully smiling and she knew that she had to set her selfish fears aside. Daddy would want her to be his amazing girl and Mama needed for her to be a help, not a problem.

The ride to the school was only five minutes away. As Mama eased the truck into the school parking lot her face lit up with a happiness that she had not exhibited since that terrible day when Daddy died. “I have a feeling that this is going to be your best year ever, Minnie Bell,” she gushed, seeming to really mean it.

Minnie Bell forced a smile as she shook her head in agreement. Somehow she was going to make it even if she had to fake it.

Note: I often use a book of writing prompts for topic ideas. Today’s prompt asked me to write the first pages of a book for young readers. This is my idea. What do you think?