Tidbits

After titling this entry, I got to wondering about the origin of the word, tidbit. It’s not that old, relatively speaking, dating to circa 1635 and being a combination of tide, as in “feast day” (think “Yuletide”) and bit as in “a choice or pleasing” piece of something including news or gossip. This according to dictionary.com. Thus concludes the educational portion of this entry.

As many of you already know, we’ll be heading to Florida on Sunday the 1st (my birthday, by the way, so Happy Birthday to me!) Our plan is to see the Orioles play the Tigers in Lakeland, the Blue Jays play the Pirates in Bradenton, and the University of Florida play up in Gainesville. We’ll also be watching our host, Al Smith, play in two softball games. I’ll post photos on Facebook, so be sure to check in. Here’s a nice one taken at Lakeland last year:

If you hold this photo up to your face, you can still feel the sunshine.

If you hold this photo up to your face, you can still feel the sunshine.

Lakeland, Florida has been the Spring Training home of the Tigers since the days of Boots Poffenberger and it is my favorite ST venue. Speaking of Boots, don’t forget to please leave a review of Boots Poffenberger: Hurler, Hero, Hell-Raiser on Amazon. Reviews help tremendously. Here’s a nice review that appeared on Skip Nipper’s blog. Skip has been keeping alive the memory of Sulphur Dell, Nashville’s old ballpark where Boots once played for the Vols.

If you want to read more than just a few tidbits, check out my SABR biography of another Williamsport native who pitched in the big leagues, Dave Cole, by clicking here.

I’ll give you a full account of our trip upon our return.

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A Fair Trade

Tom approached Margaret, one of the older ladies, who was seated on a padded bench which ran down one wall of the dance studio.

“Care to waltz?”

She met his smile with one of her own and took his outstretched hand. Tom whispered to Margaret that she was beautiful, not in words, but in his steps as he gracefully guided her around the room. Margaret not only heard, she believed, and for a couple of minutes her skin was smooth, her hair was black, and her heart was light once more.

When the dance ended, Tom escorted Margaret to her seat and looked around for Molly, but was disappointed to see that she wasn’t there. Molly came to almost every Saturday dance and she moved so easily and smiled so brightly. Tom delighted when she teased him about being considerably older than she.

Tom never missed any of these Saturday practice dances at the studio. He had learned to dance late in life and he found that it was the one thing that connected him to other people in an honest way. The accomplishment was honest, the mistakes were honest, and the joy was honest.

Honesty, however, had not always been Tom’s policy. Once his card had read “T. Henry Farris, Servant of the Lord.” Tom had always been friendly and charming and the folks in his little church back in Pinkneyville, Illinois just seemed to feel better in his presence. They began to believe that he had the power to heal through the laying on of hands and Tom was happy to accommodate the belief. He quickly learned that Hope was a sure-selling product and a reasonable facsimile could be manufactured with little effort. He convinced the almost blind that they could just about see and the almost deaf that they could almost hear.

Because the hope he sold was manufactured with poor ingredients, which included a large percentage of his own greed, his world fell apart quickly enough. He lost his fortune, his following, and ironically enough, any hope that his own life would come to any purpose, for of course, T. Henry Farris made the mistake of many young men by equating profit with purpose.

For the past two decades, he lived quietly and searched unsuccessfully. Then, on a whim or divine inspiration perhaps, he decided to take ballroom dance lessons, which at least gave him satisfaction if not purpose.

***

The following Saturday, before Molly arrived at the dance, Tom was informed immediately upon entering that Molly had been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. This didn’t seem possible as Molly was not, and had never been a smoker and she seemed to be in perfect health in every other way. The doctors were saying it was one of those impossibilities that in fact, was not impossible.

When Molly did arrive—for surely she could not just sit at home, waiting—she was swarmed with sympathizers. Everyone told her repeatedly that everything would be okay. One lady strongly suggested a homeopathic remedy. When another began telling Molly all about her sister’s uterine cancer, Tom interrupted.

“Let’s dance.”

They began a foxtrot to Fred Astaire’s “Change Partners.”

Although he had sold them by the barrel full, Tom knew the true value of words and therefore, said nothing. Instead, he let the dance talk. Their frame was excellent, their steps were large and light and they floated around the room. Tom held Molly for a dramatic pause and when they caught each other’s eyes in the mirror, they smiled in unison.

“That was nice,” said Molly when the dance was finished. “Thank you.”

Tom could not sleep that night. In the darkness of his apartment, he laughed bitterly at himself thinking that at one time, Molly would have represented nothing more than a mark, someone whose despair he could use to his own advantage. He thought of their foxtrot. He took an imaginary Molly in his arms and danced his way out to the kitchen. He paused. Now, the dance was talking to him. It had whispered something; it was almost inaudible, perhaps because it was more of a sense than a sentence; a feeling, a truth that passed all articulate understanding. But it seemed to say that if one impossibility can be possible, so can another.

When the following Saturday evening was about to end, a young man asked Molly for the last dance, but Tom cut in. “You’ll have plenty of opportunity to dance with Molly, but tonight this last dance is mine.”

Tom presented his arm and led Molly to the floor for the final dance, which was always a waltz. Tom offered Molly a frame into which she set herself. He very deliberately wrapped each finger of his left hand around her right and firmly set his right hand on her shoulder-blade. His patterns were sharp, his turns were controlled, and Molly marveled at the crispness of his steps and his styling. As the waltz ended, Tom led Molly in an underarm turn and then bowed. Instinctively, she curtsied.

“That was beautiful, you two! I was watching,” said Margaret, but her face saddened when the image of the dance faded and the reality of Molly’s situation presented itself to her again.

“Thank you for that wonderful dance,” said Molly. “It lifted my spirits.”

“Not as much as it lifted mine.”

Tom was tired by the time he got home that night. He went to bed, immediately fell into a peaceful sleep, and never woke up.

The shadow of Tom’s death that had hung over the dance studio was lifted three weeks later, when Molly announced that she had wonderful news. By some miracle, Molly’s cancer had disappeared. It was impossible, but it was true. It had disappeared as if someone had just reached in and waltzed away with it.

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Sam Adams Was Not a Ninja

I used to know a fair amount about the American Revolution. Then, I watched the History Channel’s Sons of Liberty and the part of my brain where that information is stored began to shrivel and die. It’s not just a matter of taking liberties (pun intended) with the historic record; it’s a matter of abandoning all logic and common sense.

The three-part series which concluded Tuesday night centered around unshaven hottie, Sam Adams, who ninja-like, escapes British capture in the opening scene of the first episode by climbing up downspouts, running across roofs, and jumping from building to building. Near as I can tell, given how dimly lit Boston apparently was back then, this took place in 1765. When Sam Adams was 42. He sure kept his youthful appearance and athletic skills better than I did at 42.

Naturally, the British Army comes looking for Sammy the Whammy again, this time in a tavern. Sam runs through the establishment which was not quite as large as a Wal-Mart, opens a secret door to the cellar, and escapes the clutches of the tyrannical redcoats. The cellar of this tavern is a storeroom, with quarter-windows that look out on the street. The officer in charge of the search, however, is too busy being smug and wearing scarlet to be observant, and no one bothers to check the cellar. Or to even notice that there is one, and so Sam escapes once more.

Parts One and Two show various events that lead to the Declaration of Independence including the American boycotts. Apparently, Bostonians were boycotting soap because this is the dirtiest looking cast since Eric Idle sat in the mud and called out “There’s some lovely filth over here!” during one scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Fast forward to Part Three and the fight at Bunker’s Hill, which the producers manage to make more like an episode of Benny Hill. Actually, come to think of it, if you DVR’d this Looney Tunes Presents History, just fast forward through the whole thing. Anyway, a couple soldiers are shown digging fortifications. Interestingly, they are shoveling from opposite sides of a dirt pile, not that there is any hole anywhere abouts from which this dirt might have been dug. No matter. Paul Revere (who did not take part in the action on Bunker’s Hill) shouted to anyone listening that there was only enough ammunition for “one or two shots,” although clearly the producers were not listening because once the battle begins we see men in the rear ranks loading and passing muskets to men in the front ranks three different times and the fight rages on even after that scene. Apparently, there was a revolution in mathematics taking place as well.

The real problem with such cartoon history is that the actual story is so much more interesting and improbable. For example, Sons of Liberty would have us believe that the British abandoned Boston because George Washington allowed them to retreat unmolested on the promise that they would leave Boston unharmed. This arrangement was concluded after Washington exchanges sharp-witted insults with British commander, General Thomas Gage around a campfire. In fact, Henry Knox of the Continental Army transported cannons from Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York via sleds in the winter of 1775-1776 to Boston and when Gage saw Dorchester Heights rung with guns, he saw that it was in his best interest to retreat, and in a hurry. Fort Ticonderoga, by the way, had been captured in May of 1775 by troops under the command of Benedict Arnold and irregulars commanded by Ethan Allen. How’s that for fantastic plot twists and interesting characters?

Had there been a Part Four to Sons of Liberty, I’m fairly certain that we would have seen George Washington grab hold of his cloak, catch a breeze coming off the Chesapeake, and fly over British positions at Yorktown, dropping hand grenades and insults, until the last of the redcoats, chastised and no doubt dirty, marched out and surrendered.

If you watched Sons of Liberty, I highly recommend reading Patriots by A. J. Langguth as an antidote. If you didn’t watch Sons of Liberty, you missed quite a spectacle; not a historical one, but a spectacle nonetheless.

 

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Boots & Charlie

Boots Poffenberger and Charlie Farquharson a.k.a. Don Harron have one wonderful thing in common: They both never lost sight of the joy in the world. I’ll be talking about Boots next Wednesday from 6:00-7:00 at the Fletcher Library’s “Meet the Author” lecture series in Hagerstown. I’d love to see you if you’re in the area. It’s Charlie, however, that’s the subject of today’s post.

Charlie Farquharson, the bumpkin whose hilarious innocence produced subtle wisdom, was the creation of Don Harron, a multi-talented actor and writer who died last week at the age of 90. Harron developed cancer for which he refused treatment (which, come to think of it, Boots did as well.) Most Americans got to know Charlie as the KORN news reporter on Hee Haw.

I had written a story in 2012 based on Charlie’s penchant for malopropisms entitled, “The Radio Days of Charlie Hydes.” I wanted to secure Don Harron’s permission, blessing really, and to let him know that the story was a tribute to all the joy that he had brought to me through the character of Charlie. I found him on Facebook and, much to my surprise, he acknowledged my friend request immediately and said that I could send the story to him for his approval which he quickly gave. Shortly after I posted the story to his Facebook page I received in the mail an autographed copy of Olde Charlie Farquharson’s Testament. I should clarify that this was autographed by “Charlie” who had inscribed it “For Osstin, a reel riter from your revrent admirer.” What struck me the most, however, was the package to which was attached one of those familiar return address stickers. It was Don Harron’s address. It was as if we were old friends and he just happened to slip me something in the mail. This man with thousands of admirers acknowledged me for being one of them much to my delight.

That’s the thing about guys like Don Harron and Boots–they not only recognize the joy in the world, they create more of it. Hope this video brings a little joy to you, today.

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Kitchen Garters

One of life’s great annoyances is getting the cuff of your sweater sleeve wet while doing the dishes. I rank it well above stepping in water in stocking feet. In fact, I rank it above receiving a small flesh wound. I’m reminded of this annoyance because, as with many of you, I had to wash many pots and pans over the recent holidays.

Doing the dishes while wearing long sleeves goes something like this: pull up sleeves, run the water into the sink, pull up sleeves, put pans in sink, pull up sleeves, begin scrubbing the first pan, pull up right sleeve, rinse first pan, pull up right sleeve all the way to the arm pit, begin scrubbing second pan, pull up right sleeve again because now the elastic in the cuff is stretched beyond all proportion, rinse second pan, pull up both sleeves and notice that now the crook of your right elbow is wet because you’ve had your left hand in the water and can’t be bothered to dry it every time your right sleeve falls down. Repeat.

Given our technology shouldn’t someone have developed an app or something to keep this from happening? I’m not the creative type, but if you want to make a great deal of money, invent the kitchen garter; you know, some elastic contraption that would attach to your sleeve, then run around behind your back to your other shoulder.

And please don’t tell me to simply take off my sweater before starting on the dishes. I’m not about to surrender to a sink full of sudsy water before the battle has even begun.

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Taking a Chance on Life

There’s an old song from the early 1940s entitled, “Taking a Chance on Love.” Most of us recognize the truth in that: Better to have loved and lost, etc., etc. Too many folks, however, are scared to take this idea to the next level, really to the ultimate level. The New Year provides a perfect opportunity for taking a chance on life. It’s funny really. We can examine our lives and recognize that we have made mistakes and that we have failed in the past, and we know that this is bound to happen in the future. This knowledge tends to paralyze many of us in the present, but it should free us and empower us to live boldly.

I don’t mean that everyone should learn to parachute or lay in supplies for the ascent of Mt. Everest. Heck, there are some days I have trouble ascending the stairs. It does mean, however, that we can take a chance on being kind, on being happy, on forgiving, on taking the plunge inward to really know ourselves. It means that we can take a chance on letting go of the guilt and regrets and fears that we have carried so long that we no longer realize how much those things impede our progress through Life. And, hey! We only have one shot at this. We can’t be afraid to act because we may “get it wrong.”

This summer while riding my bike along the C&O Canal, I decided that I would go further up the towpath than I had ever been. In just a few minutes, I came across the breathtaking sight of five acres of wildflowers. They were beautiful, but impossible to see at a distance because of the native trees and shrubs. For pedaling just a little further than I usually did, however, I was greatly rewarded. 2014-08-18_14-47-51_528

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps the biggest reward was the sign placed along the towpath by the farmer:

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Dare to trample a few flowers in order to pick a bouquet.

Happy New Year.

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Combating the Trivialization of Christmas

We are way past the commercialization of Christmas. With Christmas merchandise in stores before Halloween and Christmas music playing 24 hours a day by the first of November and Christmas movie marathons running for weeks on end, we have reached the trivialization of Christmas, as Martha so eloquently put it during a recent conversation. I don’t think I’ve ever been as blasé about Christmas as I am this year. No, let me correct that: I’m more blasé about the Christmas season than ever, but more excited about the Christmas spirit than ever. People use that phrase, Christmas spirit without giving much thought as to its actual definition. To me, it’s much less about Christmas gifts and much more about Christmas gestures and those can be handed out on June 25th as easily as December 25th.

I have received many such gestures this past year. People have given me their time in interviews, have read my blog and my books, have laughed with me, danced with me, played catch with me. There is no qualitative difference whether those gestures said, “You matter for the rest of my life” or “You matter in this moment.” It’s not “one size fits all”; it’s more like “all sizes fit one.” I am so grateful to have been that one so often.

It really is the thought that counts; the thought and the laughing, hugging, playing, listening. Every morning, we should rise and fill our sleighs with that stuff and hand them out where needed. Which is everywhere. We all want to know that we matter, even if it is just for the moment. After all, Life is but a series of moments. Thanks to the many of you who have made so many of my moments in 2014 feel like Christmas.

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