After i posted my curmudgeon rant last night, i got to thinking. That is not always a good thing.
Of course, that post centered on baseball, leading to recalling my three quarters of a century love affair with the game, leading to thinking about my past, admitting again, i am one lucky man, leading to me to quit…er, bitching.
Considering what we experienced this year and what fallout from this year we will deal with in 2021, i decided i would focus on the good things this lucky man has experienced.
There was this place i was born and will always be connected. It was and remains home — i will go back there and rest beside my parents when this crazy life takes the final turn. Back when it was mine and i was its youngster, it was a town in the Faulkner sense of the word, not a village, not a hamlet, not a city, but a town. Round about five thousand souls spread out on farmland with the aptly re-named Town Creek (It was “Sinking Creek” in the beginning) running under the square they built, convenient but flood prone. No matter. That square was the center of the universe for Lebanon, Tennessee. Restaurants, three hardware stores, clothing stores, two drug stores (back before folks thought that “drug store” meant something else), banks, cab station, cobblers, and a couple of pool halls, all dominated by a gothic-like courthouse. On the first block off the square of the two roads, one east-west, the other north-south were more shops and restaurants and two movie theaters.
Farmers came in and sat on the worn concrete steps of the courthouse, chewing tobacco, whittling cedar wood, and solving the world’s problems although their world was significantly smaller than today’s world.
Cars were left in parking spaces unlocked. Even homes didn’t have locked doors until the inhabitants went to bed. Children walked to school unless they lived too far away, and then they took the school bus and the school patrol was comprised of eighth graders until they created a junior high across town and the sixth graders became the school patrol, a responsibility and an honor rewarded with a tour of the state penitentiary and a baseball game at Sulphur Dell in Nashville.
Shorts, no shirt, no shoes were de rigueur from mid-May until September. Bee stings, mosquito bites, poison oak or ivy were part of the learning process.
And the sandlot, empty fields, backyard baseball kept on. Until the first Little League came to town (1954? Where’s George Harding when i need him?), we played pickup ball. We got some rudimentary instructions from our fathers. Mine showed me how to throw a curve and a knuckle ball. We listened to Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese, hawking Falstaff beer, while we watched the “Game (that’s one game) of the Week” on Saturdays, and occasionally, our dads would take us to the above mentioned Sulphur Dell to watch the Double A, Southern Association, Nashville Vols.
We still played pickup ball with various rules for yard size and whose yard was chosen for the field.
On the Sabbath, we went to Church for Sunday School, and the church service at 11:00 dressed to the nines with fresh haircuts combed just right and then dressed a little more casually (but not much) for the Methodist Youth Fellowship, the men’s choir supper, and the evening service with short sermons and lots of gospel songs.
Beginning in the early ’50’s, we began to watch one channel, WSM, which chose which network show to watch of the three, NBC, CBS, or ABC, which went off the air at midnight and came back on at three p.m. the next afternoon (with the Kate Smith hour). Red Skeleton, Milton Berle, Martha Raye, The Ted Mack Amateur Hour, Fred Waring, and Ed Sullivan were staples. Saturday mornings, television came on early with the kids no longer playing in the lot next door but scrunched around the television watching “Andy Devine’s Gang” with Froggy the Gremlin who had a magic twanger set off by “Nice” Midnight the Cat, and of course, Buster Brown and his dog Tige both of whom lived in a shoe. Gunga Ram captivated in his serial. There was the “Sealtest Big Top” and “Red Ryder” and there was Devine again as Jingles on “The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok with Guy Madison as Wild Bill. And there were others before that baseball game.
And we went to school and played during recess on equipment that would get the school administration in jail today for endangerment. We had fights and we played every kind of game and sport known to kids.
And we mustered outside for roll call during fire drills and we hid under our desks to save us from the Red Menace dropping the H-Bomb and we got the first polio shots and we put baseball cards in our one-gear bicycle spokes and put our gear for sports and other pursuits in the handlebar basket.
Then we grew up to realize some of us were male and some female. i fell in love from a dream. Then i “went” with many wonderful girls, taking them to movies, the fair, and if it cost more than ten dollars, i couldn’t afford it. That little town had so many wonderful young women, i remain amazed.
And i am going to stop now thinking about all of that stream of wonderful things in my past i was intending to include.
You see, we learned right before i grilled a great steak for supper that one of Maureen’s closest cousins with a wonderful family passed away last night after dealing with brain cancer for about half a terrible year. i was probably closer to Greg Cook than anyone else on Maureen’s side. His daughter, Cookie, took Sarah under her wing. It is a shock, a bit of life’s reality that will always be tough to deal with.
i lit the fire in the hearth before supper and we watched “The Princess Bride” for our end of the year entertainment…and to escape the sadness of a good man passing.
So this godawful year is ending.
After i started the fire in the grill and toasted Greg out in the coolness of the Southwest corner winter air, i tuned my fittingly obsolescent iPod to Albert Bell and hooked up to the bluetooth speaker. As the grill heated up and the steak lay near and the bears, Ursa Major and Minor crawled across the heavens to the northeast, and Pegasus flew across the southern sky, and i could dwell in the house of the constellations and the beauty of the Greeks for a long, long time.
But the steak needed tending. Albert was wailing as only he can about being “Born Under a Bad Sign” and “Let’s Have a Natural Ball.” i saluted Greg one more time and then, then this damn near seventy-seven year old man began to move with the music. i was moving across the small patio outside the kitchen thinking absurdly how my moves weren’t much different than when i was a pretty decent dancer. Maureen and i were good dancing together. She was more graceful, refined, and seemed to flow. i moved to the rhythm and loved it. As with all things, we fit.
And Albert wailed and his guitar played the blues. The old man danced away the blues in the chill of the night and promised to just keep on trying to do the right thing for all that’s remaining of this remarkable event we call life.
i am at peace. i only hope those i love, which are one heck of a whole bunch of people, have a healthy, bountiful, and happy 2021. As i have said to many, it’s about time, and we are due for a change for the good.