World War II Became More Than Just “A Thing”

World War II was only 12 years in the past when I was born. For me, “the war” was this thing. Clearly, it was the focal point of my parents’ lives and of the lives of all their friends, but to me, it really was just “a thing.” We kids used to go to a place called Sonny’s Surplus—there were several stores around Baltimore—and get pistol belts and canteens and .50 caliber machine gun bullets (minus the primer and powder, of course.) I remember paying a nickel each for two cartridge pouches stamped, “KC 1943.” We used all this stuff to play army. It all meant so little, that I wore my dad’s sailor hat to the beach. Again, the war was just a thing and the matėriel from that war were just so many props for our games.

It was much, much later that I began to see my parents and their friends as they were 12

WW II event in Strasburg, VA at the old train station, now the town museum.

years before I arrived. Then, I began to see their friends whom I would never meet, those friends of theirs who never came back. And I began to feel a certain vibration in “the things” and I began to hear the songs from that time as my parents must have heard them. I already had an interest in the music and began to develop an interest in World War II reenactor camps. A visit to one in Strasburg, Virginia in 2009 was the inspiration for a story entitled, “Valley of Time,” which appears in Time Is A Pool. I felt compelled to listen to the stories the things and the songs and the places told. A trip to Bedford, Virginia, the home of the National D-Day Memorial fueled what was now more of a sacred obligation to listen. Believe me, if you read Alex Kershaw’s The Bedford Boys and then take a walk around that town, you will hear a story. And you’ll

Our daughter, Becky Dice, in the WW II fashion show from a few years back.

grow quiet and reverent.

As many of you know, our former home town of Williamsport began hosting a World War II Weekend, which included a USO dance on Saturday night featuring Jump Alley. This year will mark the tenth anniversary of the event and I will be attending for the ninth time. It is through dancing to the music of the time that I add my small piece to the reenactment picture. I never felt comfortable donning a military uniform and reenacting the role of a serviceman. I never served in the military and frankly, I don’t feel I’ve earned the right to wear the uniform, even one from 70 years ago, but my mom loved to dance and I think there is something to be said for reenacting, or perhaps, more accurately recreating the joy my parents also must have felt.

Beyond dancing, I have also given voice to that time and the people who populated it by writing The Secret of Their Midnight Tears. When you read it, you’ll be reading a tribute and not just “a story” that I thought might be interesting. I dedicated it “to the boys and girls—for that’s what they were—who saved the world.” Naturally, I hope you enjoy it, but I also hope that the sensations of the World War II generation will also resonate within you and that the time will not be merely “a thing.”

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The Secret of Their Midnight Tears

Many of you know that I have been working on a coming of age novel set during World War II, and I am happy to announce that The Secret of Their Midnight Tears is now available in all formats.

The idea for The Secret of Their Midnight Tears actually arose as I was researching the life of major league pitcher, Boots Poffenberger. Boots, a Williamsporter, was a United States Marine from 1943-1946 and routinely received the town’s newsletter, The Dugout which often contained news about Boots, as well as correspondence from him. I read the other letters and articles, too and somehow that period of time came alive to me. The world was falling apart, but boys and girls were still attending dances and graduating and falling in love, all while being asked to save that world.

Writers gotta write and I was fascinated by the characters who stepped out of this world of history and into my imagination. The characters came to life for me: Indeed, the title comes from a line of dialogue that I had no idea was going to be uttered until the character said it.

I wanted to do more than tell their stories, however; I wanted the reader to experience the days leading up to and immediately following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which was of course, the life-changing event for an entire generation. Therefore, the e-book version, which is only $0.99, contains links to recordings of news bulletins, as well as links to articles on the movies, radio programs, and historic references contained in the story. I have also tried to convey the uncertainty of it all. We tend to think that history is pre-ordained and that because we know the outcome, the outcome must have been obvious to the participants as well. That was hardly the case.

Each chapter of The Secret of Their Midnight Tears takes place on a different day or sequence of days beginning with June 13, 1941—the last day of school in the little town of Marsh Point—and concluding on November 26, 1942, Thanksgiving.

Three young men. Two young women. One World War. For a summary of the book, and instructions on ordering either the paperback or the e-version, visit the Fiction page of this blog. Since authors always carry copies of their books with them, you can get one from me when you see me; autographed, no less!

As a P.S., I have to say that Erin Lange, Sarah’s former college roommate at Salisbury University, did an outstanding job with the cover.

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Five Laws We Will Have When I Am Emperor

I have always believed that the degree to which any people are civilized is in direct, inverse proportion to the number of laws it has. Simply put, good people don’t really need many laws to tell them how to behave. Nevertheless, if I become Emperor (why stop at King?) here are five laws that I will decree immediately:

  1. As everyone is in way too much of a hurry these days, everyone will be required to mosey between the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. as well as from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. That gives you 10 hours to hurry, which I might point out is counter-productive, but I understand that old habits are hard to break. Meandering is an acceptable alternative to moseying.
  2. Modern automobiles are technological marvels, able to guide themselves, park themselves, and drive themselves. We’ve come a long way from seat belts being an option and a glove box full of improperly folded maps, but I will mandate another piece of standard equipment. Under my reign, automobiles will also come with an onboard howitzer which will automatically fire a warning shot across the hood of any idiot who believes that the word yield means “I’m going to ignore you while I drive parallel with you and then give you the finger when you didn’t get out of my way, even though there is a tractor-trailer on your left.” As I mentioned, the warning shot will be fired automatically, but there will be a manual override in order to lower the shell’s trajectory. Educators call this a “teachable moment.” Actually, if people glean the benefits from the Mosey Law, the Learn the Meaning of Yield Law will most likely prove unnecessary. (See how laws decrease as folks become more civilized i.e. considerate of one another?)

    This will be illegal when I’m in charge.

  3. All toast must be cut into triangles and not rectangles. It just tastes better that way. Period. Clearly, too many restaurants do not understand this, and so the Triangle Toast law will go on the books. How you cut your toast in the privacy of your own home, however, is none of the Emperor’s business, even if you do it wrong.
  4. Ever go to a sporting event and hear some patron of the game yell, “My grandmother could hit that pitch!” (or whatever the sport and whatever it is that any given grandma could do better?) Hence forth, from the start of my Emperoring, anyone who yells such a thing will have to immediately produce his grandmother, who will then have to complete the “offending” player’s at-bat. This will benefit society in two ways: First, perhaps these people will learn that we might want to go easy on judging other people’s failures, and second, Grandma will make an appearance in a professional game and that is pretty cool.
  5. Finally, if you send your parents a cryptic text or instant message; or if you suggest in your Facebook status that some undescribed tragedy has befallen you and you do not immediately provide the details to the people who love you, you will be arrested. You will be arrested and returned to junior high school where you will be given a second chance to grow up, because that childish nonsense has to stop.

I am sure that there are other decrees that will improve our lives that I have overlooked; therefore, please feel free to suggest them to me, your Emperor-To-Be.

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I Believe in Miracles and Scooter Gennett

Scooter Gennett reminded us again last night (that is on June 6th) why baseball is the greatest game in the world, when he became only the 17th player in major league history to hit four home runs in a single game. The Cincinnati Reds utility man also set a single-game club record with 10 runs batted in, and blooped a run-scoring single to boot making him 5-for-5 on the night. The single came in the first inning and he followed that with a grand slam, a two-run homer, a solo shot, and another two-run blast. The grand slam went to right center; Gennett then hit the next three home runs to center, left, and right respectively. Gennett became the first player in the 135-year history of the Reds to hit four homers in a single game. [Boxscore]

It’s a rare feat indeed, but it becomes even more improbable when you consider that when the game began, the lefty-swinging Gennett had hit only three homers on the season, and 38 in his five-year big league career. Furthermore, he had been released by Milwaukee in March and the Reds then claimed the 5’10”, 185 pounder on waivers.

Scooter Gennett is yet another example of a primary thesis in Fathers, Sons, & Holy Ghosts: Baseball as a Spiritual Experience which is that our passion for baseball arises, in large part, because it strengthens our faith. Baseball provides events that are so improbable that they suggest the impossible and when the Impossible happens, we label it a Miracle. The concepts of the Infinite and the Eternal are beyond our comprehension, but we can understand the metaphors that suggest what these things are like and this strengthens our faith. Believe me, Scooter Gennett hitting four home runs for the Reds, when Ted Kluszewski, Frank Robinson, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, George Foster, Adam Dunn, and Joey Votto have not is miracle.

Then, of course, there’s the fact that he is officially listed in baseball-reference.com as “Scooter,” which means that he was destined to play baseball because that’s a baseball name if ever there was one. Besides, how many bank presidents do you know are named Scooter? What else could he do? Actually, Ryan Joseph Gennett picked up that nickname when, at the age of five, and refusing to wear his seatbelt, he was taken by his mother to the local police station to have a uniformed officer scare him into wearing it. Frightened that he would be arrested if he provided his real name, the quick-thinking kid gave them the name of his favorite Muppet character.

Only in baseball.

Oh, and to put one final improbable cherry on this most unlikely of sundaes? Though he graduated from Sarasota High School in Florida, where the family moved when he was nine, Scooter was born in Cincinnati, Ohio.

You gotta believe.

Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati witnessed a most unlikely event Tuesday night, courtesy of Scooter Gennett.

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The Life of Riley

Our granddaughter, Riley, celebrates her 5 month birthday tomorrow, and her growth is astounding. In fact, she’s becoming so dexterous that I bought her her first sleeve of little baseballs and I’d like to see her on a throwing program before the summer is out.

In any case, I say that she’s going to “celebrate” her birthday, but really I imagine that she’ll pretty much do what she has done her whole life now, which is eat, nap, and require several diaper changes, although her cooing, smiling, and key-ring chewing has increased considerably. It is remarkable how these simple activities are so engaging to me. We Skyped with Becky and Riley on Monday and she kept us entertained for 40 minutes with that simple repertoire. In fact, I find myself smiling and laughing at pretty much anything she does. I notice that she seems to elicit this reaction from other people when they see her photos and videos. As a good friend of ours has said, “She’s magic,” and that’s a very accurate description. Her little being seems to slow people down and make them just Be, too.

Our Skype time on Monday brought us another reward, however, besides little gummy smiles and wide blue eyes. As much as Riley has grown in these five months, so too, has Becky. She was holding Riley on her lap in front of the camera, and we got to watch our daughter just be with her daughter. Becky seems relaxed and confident as a mom now and that’s not a given. After all, becoming a mom is a serious adjustment. I mean first you give birth, which may be in accordance with the laws of biology, but it’s a process that certainly seems to defy several laws of physics. Then, they put this little naked bundle in your arms, one that comes with absolutely no instruction manual, and say, “Congratulations! You’ve just committed the rest of your life to this brand new miniature person!”

I am happy to say that Becky and Jesse both are happily committed.

Riley isn’t aware of much now, certainly not aware that she is a Keeper of the Magic. When she is older and goes out into the world seeking its wonders, my role will be to help her look inside for that Magic that she has always possessed. Right now, her great power is to remind the rest of us that we have the Magic, too.

Riley doing her ET impression.

 

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Brooks, Still the Magician

This is a weird day for me, and probably many other similar-aged people, boys especially, who grew up in Baltimore in the 1960s and 70s. My childhood hero, Brooks Robinson, turns 80 today. 80! I knew that one day Brooks would no longer be playing third base for the Baltimore Orioles because I knew that I would be the one replacing him. Half of that knowledge proved accurate. But Brooks was never going to grow old, and while I was going to grow up, I wasn’t going to grow old either. Neither of those beliefs proved accurate.

Brooks played for the Orioles for 23 seasons beginning in 1955, so he was always there during my entire childhood. When I first began to comprehend the world, around the age of seven or eight, I quite naturally made the mistake of believing that this is the way the world has always been and the way it always will be. I always enjoyed history even at that age, but I viewed it about the same way that I viewed a movie: It wasn’t quite real. Then, somewhere in adolescence, I began to realize that change is a constant. My friend from 4th grade was not my friend in 10th grade who was somebody I had never met before. My parents were getting older. Some of their friends had died. I was changing, but through it all there was Brooks. Even as his talent diminished, even when he retired it didn’t matter because he was now a fixture, a great Touchstone to all that had been wonderful about growing up. In fact, when he did retire in 1977, I had met this girl named Martha, and we went to “Thanks, Brooks Day” at Memorial Stadium. Then my wife, Martha, and I attended the night in1983 when he was honored for his Hall of Fame induction, and of course, we attended the ceremony in Cooperstown. And when we were expecting our two children, there was no question what his name would be if indeed, the baby turned out to be a “he.”

People used to say that Brooks was “a magician” with the glove, which was true in that sports columnist kind of way, but he possesses a far greater magic than that. He can make my childhood reappear.

I “met” Brooks Robinson when I was seven; actually did meet him when I was eight and got his autograph several times since then. I regard all of those times as highlights of my life. What endears Brooks to so many of us is not just the Hall of Fame talent and the fact that he is a nice guy, but that he seems to take a genuine interest in each one of us. If we were all half as decent as Brooks Robinson, it would be a Hall of Fame world.

Don’t think you can get around on the fastball anymore, Brooks, but believe me, you still got the Magic. Happy birthday.

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Baseball Stories

I recently re-read a book of three short stories that I wrote a few years ago, something that I don’t normally do. As I was creating a new ad campaign on Amazon for these old stories, I wanted to re-familiarize myself with them.

They were good!

Trust me, writers don’t always (don’t usually?) have that reaction to material that they’ve written in the past. When I reexamine a subject after a few years, I often find that my perspective has changed; what I wrote then is not what I would write now. This is why I rarely break that rule about not reading my own work once it’s in print.

What also struck me about these stories is that I was just beginning to touch on themes and observations that have become very important to me since I first wrote them, themes and observations that were an important part of Fathers, Sons, & Holy Ghosts.

In any case, 3 Tales From the Grand Old Game includes “I Love it Here in Indiana!” which demonstrates the lengths to which three friends will go in order to fulfill the final request of their baseball Yoda, Max McGowan. They have promised to scatter his ashes on the diamond where Max managed decades ago, but tracking down the correct field—and keeping track of the urn that contains Max—is not as easy as it seems. Max, by the way, is based on real life Mo Weber whom many of you know. I did an interview with Mo about his days managing semi-pro baseball out in the Dakotas in the 1950s as part of a companion piece to the story and you can watch that video here.

“Spot On,” the second story in the trio, examines the desperation and self-doubt that arises in Trent Tyler when he suddenly and for no apparent reason, develops an inability to throw a baseball accurately. Trent struggles to overcome this throwing “slump,” but he knows that his problem is much deeper than a mere slump. Willing to fake an injury to explain his rash of errors, the third baseman discovers that he needs help, and not from a coach, either.

“A Baseball Fan’s Fairy Tale,” the final story in the collection, is just that. We’ve all dreamed of owning a big league team; long-suffering Oriole fan Larry Koobish, along with a million friends finds a way to make it happen. Only in this fairy tale, Larry discovers that he is not Cinderella, but instead is a Fairy Godfather.

3 Tales From the Grand Old Game is an e-book only and is available on Amazon here and available for all other e-readers here. And it’s only $.99. (That’s pretty subtle, right?)

***

There is one more very important, very moving baseball story to tell you about that occurred just today. You might recall the message that I received from a young lady in California whose Twitter handle is “Krity.” She had placed her dad in hospice and though he was unresponsive, she read him baseball books, reasoning that if anything could get through to her baseball-loving dad, it was that. She had found my book, Fathers, Sons, & Holy Ghosts: Baseball as a Spiritual Experience, and wanted me to know how important it was to them.

I received a follow-up message telling me that her dad died at the end of March. Krity added,

“I’ll never forget reading to him your words about the extra special connection between fathers and daughters who love baseball together. Thank you for your beautiful words and stories—they comforted us both, and gave us such a lovely way to connect.”

It’s a weird and wonderful feeling to think that I functioned like the voice in Field of Dreams and helped connect a father to his child one last time. It’s also probably the best baseball story that I’ve ever heard.

 

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