The Grands

The Grands
"Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children".
--- from the writings of Roots author Alex Haley

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Communing with the Spirit of the Past, Present, and Future

Audrey begins her spiritual journey
Yesterday was the first of what I hope will be many special days in the spiritual development of my granddaughter Audrey. She celebrated her First Holy Communion in the All Saints Catholic Church.

Now I have no idea how Audrey's relationship to her spiritual life will turn out. Neither does she, for she's only 8 years old. Audrey may be like her great-grandmother Price and become an avid churchgoer and true Christian, exemplifying the teachings of Jesus Christ in every aspect of her life. She may decide to be more like her Nana Sullivan, a believer in God who goes to church, but doesn't accept all the tenets of the Catholic faith. Or she may opt to follow her father, her grandmother Price, and myself, all of whom were raised in the Methodist Church but elected to reject regular church going as a requisite to living a good life on Earth. Or, of course, she may choose some other way.

But no matter which path Audrey heads down, I think it's important that all young Americans receive an understanding of Christianity. I say this for three main reasons:
  1. It gives you a solid basis to begin forming your own ideas of spirituality
  2. It gets you to start exploring many of the essential questions of life such as who am I, why am I here, how should I live my life, and what is my relationship to others and the world around me.
  3. It gives you a better understanding of America since so much of religion is embedded in our history, politics, and culture.
I found it both interesting and hopeful that the idea of true spiritual choice and understanding was central to the message that church priest Father Hugh Marren delivered directly to the 60 or so young people who were participating in their first communion.

After taking the group through a brief history of the Catholic books that taught young people through the ages about Holy Communion, Father Marren, in his lilting Irish brogue, noted the modern church tradition now calls for a more personal understanding rather than rote memorizations of the precepts involved.

He illustrated his point of the drawbacks of mere memorization and recitation by offering the following story:

Once, there was a Catholic Church where the Monsignor regularly visited to see how well the students were prepared to receive their first communion. Now the nuns there, being very bright, realized that the Monsignor always asked the questions in the same order, beginning with the first student on the left. So they made sure the first student knew the answer to the first question, the second to the second, and so on until all the questions were answered correctly. This pleased the Monsignor, who praised the nuns and their students for their hard work and faith.

And so it went for several years, until one year, when the third student was absent. When the Monsignor asked the third question, which was who made you, he directed it to the fourth student, who had memorized the response to the fourth question. Obviously, the student didn't give the correct answer.

Now not wanting to embarrass the young man, the Monsignor bent over and said, "Now son, you know 'twas God that made you".

"Oh no sir," the young boy replied. "God made Johnny and he's not here today".

"So you can see boys and girls," Father Marren concluded. "It's important not to just know the words, but to understand what they mean, believe them, and follow them".

But I hope Audrey wasn't only listening to Father Marren's words, as important as they were. Here is a sampling of some of the other ideas I hope Audrey was beginning to internalize on this special day.
  • the power of people gathered together for a single purpose.
  • the purpose of traditions in our lives and the fact that these traditions are not sacrosanct, but can be altered over the years to better accommodate the times.
  • the absolute need for what some term religious stories, others call myths, and still others term scientific certainties to understand the mysteries of human experience and the world around us.
  • the understanding to realize that action is also called for when a congregation repeats these words: "For all those people in the world who need our prayers  - the sick, the homeless, the hungry, the sad, the lonely, we pray to the Lord". Prayer is good; prayer with action better.
  • the benefit of turning to those near you and saying "Peace be with you" and hearing the refrain back "and peace be with you also". This message is magnified when it is carried out of the confines of the church and put into practice in daily living.
After the ceremony was over, as family, friends, and communicants milled about, chatting and posing for pictures, I stood to the side watching.

During the service, one of the most frequently mentioned words had been love. You could feel the love in the church. You could feel the love now outside. I directed a silent hope to Audrey that she would find much such love on her continuing journey.

For however anyone spiritually decides to travel his or her road, 1 Corinthians 13:13 suggests three good companions: "And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love".

And I believe anyone of any spiritual calling, even the greatest of atheists, should be able to say a big Amen to that.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Tomorrow, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

This article 1st appeared in The Prices Do DC
For Russell Mitchell and Richie Nocella, who were too soon taken from this Earth to be once again a part of the Cosmos, and to Steve Ferrera and Dr. Robert Wilkinson, who are still here. And a special shout-out to William Shakespeare, John Updike, and all my South Jersey high school students without whom this story could not be told.
Have I ever told you about the time I performed the "Tomorrow" soliloquy from William Shakespeare's Macbeth live on the stage of the Folger Shakespeare Library? No? Well, that's because up until last Sunday, I hadn't done any such performance.

But now I can tell you the tale (and, no, you smart-assed Shakespearean scholars - it is not a tale told by an idiot).

I performed the monologue as part of a day-long celebration at the world-renowned DC Shakespeare institution to honor what would have been William Shakespeare's 450th birthday.

And, as you can see here, I even have visual proof, that, in the words of Macbeth himself, "I have done the deed."

But my involvement with the "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" soliloquy actually begins more than 4 decades ago, which of course chronologically makes for a whole lot more than just 3 tomorrows.

In 1970, I was a 2nd-semester freshman at Villanova University. My English class was taught by Dr. Robert Wilkinson (who, unbeknownst to me at the time, would become a life-long mentor ). In the class were 2 of my newly-made best friends, Steve Ferrara, my Boston-speaking roommate, and Richie Nocella from South Philly. Richie, Steve, and I had all been randomly assigned to Dr. Wilkinson's Freshmen Comp and Lit Class (a bit of fortunate fate that would change all of our lives) the 1st semester and had chosen him for our Spring Semester English course.

In our next class, we would be examining the John Updike short story "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and So Forth." Obviously, Updike used the beginning of the Macbeth soliloquy for his title. So Dr. Wilkinson had assigned me to memorize the 74-word word soliloquy and deliver it to the class to start our exploration.

Piece of cake, I thought. And it would have been too, if it hadn't been for the fact that my recitation happened to occur on what turned out to be the first beautiful warm day of a Main Line spring. So somehow Richie and Steve, now joined by the fourth member of our freshmen quartet, Russell Mitchell, decided to celebrate the arrival of warm weather by grabbing some quarts of beer and some smoking material and head to a small stream near our Havertown apartment.

Now, in my defense, I probably didn't fully realize what Steve was suggesting. To this day, Steve speaks funny. You know the type - Pahk yer cah in the bek yahd. (I mean, come on, there are r's in those words).

The 1970 Tomorrow ... me in my college band Frog Ocean Road
But no matter what the reason, I found myself partaking in the merriment and soon I was - what is the phrase I am searching for here - oh yes, stoned and completely wasted. However, I was confident that I could still deliver my soliloquy since at the time I was a keyboardist in a rock band and had performed numerous times under the influence of chemicals that made members of the audience appear to be crazy-colored, melting dragons spewing giant bubbles.

We arrived at class. Richie, Steve, and Russell positioned themselves in strategic places where they could best annoy me. Dr. Wilkinson summoned and I headed to the front of the room, where I proceeded to deliver the soliloquy flawlessly, despite the best attempts of my trio of friends to distract me. But Dr. Wilkinson - did I mention he is one of the most brilliant men I have ever encountered - must have sensed something was awry. He asked me to repeat my performance. And this time, the outcome was decidedly different. I swear I thought I was beginning by repeating "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow," but instead it came out something like "Tomershthis, ang Teropoly um tomomsie." And it went downhill from there. Anyway, we all had a good laugh, I graduated Villanova with a BA in English, and we moved on with our lives.

After a decade as a reporter, I switched careers and became a high school English teacher. I found myself teaching Macbeth in my British lit class. And so, as I had been asked to do so many years before by Dr. Wilkinson, I had each of my Honors and Academic students memorize the "Tomorrow ..." soliloquy and deliver it to the class. To make it more memorable, I tried to pair up performance with interest. A member of the baseball team could recite it standing at home plate. Members of the drama club could say it on stage.  Classroom sweethearts could deliver it together. To this day, many of my students can still recite the soliloquy by memory when I run into them. Of course, they then spoil the moment by pointing out that is the only thing they remember from my class and exactly when did my hair turn gray.

Three years ago, I retired from teaching and instructional coaching and we moved to DC. But then I was asked by a friend to join him in educational consulting. Now I find myself splitting time between high schools in DC and Syracuse, working with teachers who teach in Twilight programs designed for students who are in danger of dropping out.

Tomorrow ... at Luke C, Moore
Last month, I was delivering an impromptu presentation to the teachers and students in Luke C. Moore High School in DC and, in the middle of the delivery, I used the "Tomorrow" soliloquy. While I was speaking the lines, I observed 2 teachers reciting them along with me. After the presentation, I discovered that one, an English teacher, had memorized the passage when he was a high school senior in Asia. The other, a math teacher, had been required to master the soliloquy when he was a 16-year-old student in Nigeria.

Although I didn't know it at the time, that presentation served as a good rehearsal for my Sunday work on the Folger stage (which you can view by clicking here.)

So that concludes my Tomorrow tale for now. I swear it all true except for the parts I made up. But does the story, as I always used to ask my students, contain any morals, messages, or meanings?

I think there are quite a few takeaways from combining Shakespeare's original soliloquy with my several encounters with it over the decades. They include:

  1. Macbeth says the future "creeps" in a "petty pace." He is wrong. The future doesn't creep. One day you are delivering a Shakespeare soliloquy in your freshmen college class. In what seems like a brief passage of time (but is actually 4 decades) you find yourself delivering that same soliloquy on the stage of the Folger Shakespeare Library.
  2. Macbeth calls life "a walking shadow" that after death is "heard no more." Sorry, Macbeth, wrong again. Life is not a shadow, but substance. And memories allow our life stories to resonate through time that comes long after we are gone.
  3. While it's true that moments of our lives are "full of sound and fury," they do not "signify nothing." Our friends, our experiences, our memories all give meaning, not nothingness, to our lives.
  4. And perhaps most importantly, if 3 or more of your friends ever ask you to celebrate the warmth and beauty of a first warm Spring day, be safe, but take a chance.  For whether you are an idiot or genius, there really is no telling how your tale will turn out.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

How to Make Sure Your Child Doesn't Become a GOP Candidate for President

This article was originally published on LinkedIn
My former student Kate Sheppard, who is now a staff writer for The Huffington Post, and her college professor husband Deen Freelon recently had their 1st child. As new parents are apt to do, they have been posting pictures of themselves with their infant son on social media.
I saw one last night of Kate and little August. He looked like he was having a marvelous time with his mother.
The picture disturbed me greatly. In fact, I was so upset I wrote Kate immediately. Here is what I said:
I don't want to tell you how to raise your child Kate Sheppard, but I fear you are spoiling him. He looks content and is clearly enjoying his life too much. 

When Donald Trump was your son's age, he was already on the streets of New York, checking out giant walls and determining which buildings he should put his name on.

When Ted Cruz was your son's age, he was already engaged in great discussions with the loud voice in his head he was sure was God, talking about how guns, gasoline, and moral grit would make America a better kind of great again than what that silly infant Donald Trump was spewing out in his sordid city of sin, New York. 

You don't want August to fall behind, do you? If you keep up this kind of mothering (and knowing Deen I'm sure he's doing the same type of Dadding) you two will have a happy child who will know love, contentment, and kindness and maybe want to help others achieve that in their lives as well.

To put it bluntly, If your son doesn't become a GOP candidate for the highest office in the land, I'm afraid that you and Deen will be the ones directly responsible. Can you live with that?

P.S. - If you're not sure how to raise a Trump/Cruz hybrid child, go back to the collected works of Charles Dickens. There are great parenting tips there.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

On Memories, Basketball Titles, and Paste-Covered Toothbrushes

The marvelous six-game journey the Villanova Wildcats made through March Madness to capture the 2016 NCAA college basketball title obviously created many new memories for younger Wildcat fans. But it brought back many memories for older fans, too. Here are a few of mine.
As a graduate of the Villanova Class of 1973, I followed Villanova's tournament games this year with FAN-atical Philly Main Line fervor. I alternated between heights of ecstasy and depths of despair on each free throw, lead change, or shift in momentum.

(OK ... I realize those above two sentences are cliche-ridden and hyperbolic, but I assure you I really did watch this particular tournament with intense interest and emotion).

Rich, laughing next to Karen with me behind them.
Graduation party on the VU football field, May 1973.
Why is Rich wearing that big bowtie?
During the less frenetic moments of timeouts and after every game, I thought of my great friend from my Villanova years, Rich Nocella.

South Philly Richie, my Boston pahk-yah-cah roommate Steve Fererra, myself, and the fourth member of our VU freshmen quartet, the ever-flamboyant Philly suburbanite Russell Mitchell, created enough memories in our short time together to fill a series of hilarious books, whose total weight could rival that of a slimmed-down Charles Barkley leaping wildly in a celebration of a Villanova victory.

By the beginning of our junior year, however, only Rich and I were left at Villanova. Steve had transferred to the University of Massachusetts and Russell had dropped out and left campus on a long journey to find himself.

Now Richie was just an average college student. But he got straight A's in all things sports. His father had been taking him to the famed Philly Palestra to see Big 5 basketball games since he was little. At Bishop Neumann High School in Philadelphia, Rich had been a solid pitcher on the baseball team. He put together an intramural basketball team at Villanova that was good enough to win the campus league title. And, as one of VU's most outgoing personalities, he knew every important athlete on campus.

Therefore in 1971, when Villanova won its way to its first Final Four, Richie headed to Houston to see the games. Since I was playing in a rock band and had a job that weekend, I didn't go with him, despite his insisting that this might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Villanova beat favored Western Kentucky, but lost in the finals to one of those John Wooden-led UCLA juggernauts. The game was tainted and Villanova's name was stricken from the record books because star player Howard Porter (who, in my crowning athletic achievement at Villanova, once borrowed a dime from me for a phone call in Bartley Hall) had signed a professional contract before the games.

Rich, between my roommate Steve and me with my son, Michael
who is now an economic professor at the University of Chicago.
Why is Richie wearing that wooden basket on his head?
After graduation, Richie and I never again had the type of daily contact that only four years of college closeness can offer. But we kept in touch, since I lived in South Jersey and he lived in the Philly suburbs. He came to our wedding and we went to his, where he married his high school sweetheart, Karen. He came to see our son when he was born and we visited when both his son and then his daughter were born. Some nights, in a wistful, alcohol-fueled state, I would call him or he would call me, and we would talk about times both old and new. It was a pattern that would continue for decades. And when we did get together from time to time, it was if the intervening years had never happened and we were simply students back on campus.

Over the years, Rich had two careers - the first as a teacher who eventually became athletic director at a prestigious Main Line private school.  After many years, he left education to become a financial analyst and advisor, not surprisingly doing extremely well and even representing a few Villanova athletes who turned professional.

(Journalistic Disclaimer Here: Despite his insistent requests, I never accepted any financial advice from Richie. After all, I had seen him in a woeful impersonation of Mick Jagger singing, or maybe make that screeching,  "Jumping Jack Flash" drunkenly at 4 a.m. in 1971, using a toothpaste-stained, blue toothbrush as a microphone. Plus, I knew Karen, skeptical of her husband's abilities, managed the money at home).

Rich, Karen & the late Russ Mitchell
at my 40th birthday party, which was
24 years ago. Where did the time go?
In 1985, Villanova, led by its roly-poly, pasta-eating coach Rollie Massimino, had, as an 8th-seed, shockingly made the Final Four for the second time. The chances of Villanova winning the national title were remote. But after a semi-final victory, the Wildcats found themselves facing a heavily favored Georgetown team that had already beaten them twice during the regular season. Improbable as it still seems, when the final buzzer sounded, Villanova was the 66-64 winner in what most sportswriters and basketball experts acknowledge was the most perfectly played Final Four game by any one team in tournament history. The pictures of Villanova forward Dwayne McClain lying on the floor tightly clutching the basketball at game's end and the ensuing explosion of Villanova joy have become iconic views, played over and over as if to prove the impossible victory actually happened.

Once again, Richie was at that game. Once again, I wasn't. Whenever we would get together from time to time after that, he would always regale the group with a special story or two about that day and its aftermath. And, of course, those stories would be the kind that only Richie could tell.

But in 2010, those stories abruptly ended. I received a tearful call from Richie's son, explaining that his father had died in the night. I was stunned. I guess I thought with his vibrancy, exuberance, and love of life, Richie, like his beloved 1985 Villanova basketball team, would somehow beat the odds and live forever. Or at least long enough to entertain enraptured elderly audiences with his engaging stories in some expensive old-folks home on the Main Line.

Even though it would make no difference, being a former journalist I wanted to know the details. Rich and Karen had just returned from a trip to Europe. Rich told Karen he was going in to his office to check on a few things. After a couple of hours passed, Karen became concerned. She called some of Richie's friends. She phoned a few of his business associates. Finally, fearing the worst, she summoned the courage and went to her husband's office. There she found Rich, slumped in his chair, an uncradled telephone lying next to him on the floor. He had suffered a fatal heart attack as he was apparently attempting to make a call.

His funeral was something to behold. The chapel at the private Hill Top School where he once taught was packed. Presiding over the ceremony was no less a personage than the President of Villanova. During the eulogy, the president spoke more as the friend of Richie's he was in real life than a devout Catholic priest or the dignified head of a major American university.

He told several stories, that while seeming strange coming from a priest, were perfectly fitting for Richie and the way he had lived his life.  And perhaps even more improbable than the Villanova victory over Georgetown, a sanitized version of our fabled tale of the paste-stained toothbrush and the late-night (well actually early morning) caterwauled "Jumping Jack Flash" was among those stories. It was one of the most appropriate funeral services I have ever attended. Richie would have loved it.

This year Villanova, as its has so frequently under the guidance of Rollie Massamino's protege Jay Wright, was once again selected for the tournament field of 68 teams. This was a talented, well-coached team with senior leadership, but it was also a team of uncertainty. For a few weeks, it had gained the first number one national ranking in Villanova's history. But it had also lost to underdog Seton Hall in the Big East championship game and had been struggling mightily in recent tournaments.

For Villanova, the Road to the Final Four (as always, thanks for that phrase CBS) began with an 86-56 victory over UNC Asheville, followed by an 87-68 defeat of Iowa. Villanova was in the Sweet Sixteen. A 92-69 win over Miami led to an Elite 8 showdown with the nation's top-ranked team, Kansas. Kansas fell 64 to 59. Villanova was in the Final Four, facing an Oklahoma team in Houston that had the nation's best offensive player and had beaten the Wildcats by 30 points in December. But, in one of the few times that criminally overused word "awesome" could actually apply, Villanova crushed the Sooners 95 to 51, recording the largest margin of victory ever in a Final Four game.

That left only the tradition-proud, Roy Williams-led University of North Carolina standing between Villanova and a second national title.

I don't think I need to recount the entire game here, exciting as it was. Talking about the incredible last 4.7 seconds will suffice. With that amount of time on the clock, North Carolina's smooth senior guard Marcus Paige made one of the most awkward 3-point shots ever attempted to tie the game at 71.

Villanova had less than five seconds to travel the length of the court and then find the basket for a win. All indications pointed to overtime. But if there's one certainty in sports, it's that sometimes the most uncertain things can, and do, happen.

Junior forward Kris Jenkins inbounded the ball to senior point guard and team leader Ryan Arcidiacono. Arcidiacono dribbled furiously up the court. He knew when he made it past half court, he would have about a second to decide whether to take the final shot himself or pass it off to one of his teammates. Everyone's role was clearly defined. It was a designed last-second play called Nova. The starters had run it forever as part of practice. Ironically, it reportedly had never worked there, but this was what the Wildcats were going with. Jenkins, unguarded, trailed Arcidiacono up the court. Now along side him, Jenkins was calling for the ball. "Arch, Arch," he screamed. Arcidiacono tossed him the ball. Jenkins elevated, released and .............

Now although many claim they do, I have absolutely no idea what happens when a person dies. But if there is any way a part of a deceased person's life force can return to Earth, then I'm certain the spirit of Richie Nocella was in the building that night. I mean he obviously knew the way since he had already travelled with Villanova to a Final Four once before in Houston 45 years earlier.

I don't want to take anything away from the masterful coaching job of Jay Wright and his assistants. Or Arcidiacono's court sense or Jenkins' sweet stroke or the contributions of all the other Wildcat players that got Villanova in position for that final shot.

But there is a part of me that believes this: If Richie Nocella's spirit did find its way to the court on that crazy, heart-pounding Monday night, it wouldn't surprise me if it deftly grabbed the ball immediately after it left Jenkins' fingers and guided it directly into the hoop just as the clock showed 0:00.

Now I know some might call that cheating.  Maybe even lodge a protest claiming unfair Divine Intervention. But it's definitely something Richie Nocella would do, especially if it could help the team and the 'Nova nation.

And besides, if spirits can tell stories, it would give him one more great - maybe even the greatest of all  - Villanova tale to tell. Or at least the greatest that didn't involve the early 1970s, four drunk freshmen, Mick Jagger, and a paste-covered toothbrush.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

You Can Celebrate and Learn at the Same Time

In our family, like in many others, sports plays a big role. My Dad passed down his love of sports to me. I helped instill it in my son. My son and his wife are working to share it with their daughter and son. It's one of many ways to link generations. It's a good way for families to bond among themselves and with others. And, most importantly, it's a great way to teach and learn life lessons.
In life as in sports you sometimes get a last shot. Make yours good.
As a graduate of Villanova University Class of 1973, Villanova's incredible buzzer-beater win over North Carolina this week was obviously cause for elation, ecstasy, euphoria and probably a bunch of other words beginning with "e" that I can't even think of right now.

I mean it's not every day that I end a college basketball contest, even one being called the greatest final game in the history of the NCAA tournament, by sliding off the couch in our living room, my arms first raised high in the air, beaming like a crazed madman, then pounding the floor and screaming "Oh my God. Wow. Woh. Wow".

In fact, I'm fairly certain it's actually the first time in my 64 years on the planet that I have done such a thing. Celebrate, yes. Celebrate wildly, of course. But celebrating that way - no way.

After a few days of letting the initial wild joy of that incredible championship victory pass, as a retired teacher and grandfather who is trying to pass on beneficial ideas and concepts to his grandchildren, I realized that such a game offers many valuable lessons. Here are five important ones I want to highlight:
  • That great sports philosopher and one of the best catchers to ever play baseball Yogi Berra probably said it best when he offered "It ain't over 'till it's over". Here's a synopsis of what I mean, all of which transpired in the last 4.7 seconds of the game. It's Villanova. It's a tie. It's overtime, No ... it's Villanova wins. Can you believe it? Villanova wins. And that's why we say give all you can until the end. In life, as well as sports.
  • North Carolina head coach Roy Williams on losing such a contest: "The hurt will never go away. But we gotta see and understand that we did some good things to get here and still have a chance at the end". That's called perspective.
  • Or this, also from a tearful-at-the time Williams: "The difference between winning and losing in college basketball is so small. The difference in your feelings is so large. But that's the NCAA tournament. That's college basketball".  It's also life.
  • Villanova sub Phil Booth had a night for the ages in this championship game by scoring a career and game-high 20 points off the bench. How did Booth respond? "Don't think about the moment. Focus. Do your routine. Everything else is locked up. I just did what I'm supposed to do. We won it as a team". Basketball is a team sport. So is life. Booth was ready. So was senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono, who dreamed and practiced most of his life to bury such a last-second game winner, but when that time actually came he instead passed the ball to teammate Kris Jenkins, who was in a better position to take and make the shot. And then there was 6'11'' senior Daniel Ochefu, who right before the play grabbed the floor mop from a startled floor boy and began vigorously wiping off the sweat around midcourt. Although no one knew it at the time, it turned out that was the spot where he was to set the pick that would allow either Arcidiacono or Jenkins to take the single shot for it all. In sports and life, you may shine as an individual, but you truly win as a team. Everyone has a part to play. They're all important. Play yours well.
  • And finally, it's true that there is much wrong in sports today. The same holds true in life. But sometimes you get to see a moment, or a performance, or even an entire game that is so beautiful, so nearly perfect, that it is truly life-affirming. In life, when you see something wrong, make sure not to participate in it, and, if possible, actively work to change it. But balance that by seeing the beauty around you and enjoying that too. And if the situation warrants it, you can slide off the couch and pound the floor in jubilation, even if your spouse or others around look at you as if you're crazy. Just tell them that's the joy-filled way you react to encountering magnificence and grandeur. Who knows? They might even join you.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Eternal Optimism of Opening Day

In our family, like in so many others, sports plays a big role. My Dad passed down his love of sports to me. I helped instill it in my son. My son and his wife and I are working to share it with their daughter and son. It's one of many ways to link generations. It's one of the ways to teach life's lessons. And, most importantly, it's one of the ways for families to bond with themselves and others.
President Woodrow Wilson throws out
the Opening Day pitch 100 years ago
From time to time, we all need a new start.

Maybe that's one reason why the opening day of any sports season is so important to us as fans. On that one day, anything from the team you follow is possible. The book on last season has closed and it's time to begin the first sentence of the first chapter of this new season's new edition.

And while this is true in all sports, because of its timing, I think Opening Day is most significant in baseball. Baseball begins in the spring, which is nature's signal to us that things can change from gloom to brightness. Gone are the chilling temperatures, the starkness of empty trees, and the pall of early darkness. Instead, we begin to experience warming winds, blooming trees, and lighter, later evenings.

But while we can bask in the promise and optimism of opening day, reality tells us that our ride on the everything's-rosy train may be short lived. As today dawned, all 30 Major League baseball teams were undefeated. Three games were scheduled - the St. Louis Cardinals vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Toronto Blue Jays vs. The Tampa Bay Rays, and, in a matchup of last year's World Series teams,  the New York Mets vs. the Kansas City Royals.

By midnight, however, barring an extra-inning marathon, only three of those teams will still be unbeaten. One game in and there will already be a division between winners and losers, a division that will only widen as the league plays out its 162-game schedule.

But inherent optimism isn't the only lesson opening day has to teach us. Here are some other takeaways applicable to both sports and life.
  • If you do win at first, you can't rest on your laurels. Tomorrow is, as that would-have-been staunch Atlanta Braves fan Scarlett O'Hara said in the film Gone with the Wind, another day.
  • If you lose, it isn't over. You can reflect on the loss and see what you need to change. Losers one day can become winners the next.
  • Opening Day is only one game; there are 161 more to go. We're talking marathon here, not sprint.
  • And, no matter what the game outcome, there's something going on greater than wins and losses, greater than individuals, greater than teams, greater than organizations, and leagues, and titles. I think James Earl Jones best expressed this idea in the classic baseball movie Field of Dreams. It's a message we all need to hear and ponder from time to time. So before we throw out the first pitch, let's let Mr. Jones tell us again one more time:

OK now, let's play some baseball.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Sewing the Seeds from One Generation to Another

As a writer on social media, you never really know what will impact your audience. For example, a recent post on my Facebook page set a personal page page record for likes in just two days. The entry contained the above two pictures plus the simple line - 
Audrey made this dress with some help from her grandmother. So pretty!

The post recorded 161 likes.

But here's the funny thing. I had absolutely nothing to do with the entry. It was posted 

and written by my daughter-in-law Shannon. The pictures are of my 8-year-old granddaughter. With a lot of help from my wife Judy (who, of course is also her grandmother), Audrey designed and sewed the dress displayed. The entry only appeared on my page because I was tagged in my daughter-in-law's post.

So why did this post strike such a chord?

I would love to say it was the beauty of my granddaughter. But there have been hundreds of pictures of Audrey on my Facebook page that didn't provoke such a response. And while the A-line dress is certainly attractive, I don't think it signals the start of a fashion revolution.

I believe the popularity comes from the fact that this was an intergenerational project (Grandmom to granddaughter) imparting a skill that many think is disappearing from modern American culture - the ability to sew.

Comments on the post support this conclusion. Here is a sample.

  • What a wonderful skill to be passing on! Sewing is a lost art.
  • Yay, a girl who knows how to sew.
  • That is awesome! Is her grandmother available for lessons!?! Kell got a machine for her birthday but I'm not much use in helping her!
  • I have the same issue! Ellie loves to sew and since I am helpless I have to sign her up for classes. 
Once in America, sewing was a vital skill. For most families, mothers and grandmothers and big sisters made the family's entire wardrobe. But that changed with the Industrial Revolution, when massed-produced goods became easy to make and relatively inexpensive to buy. Today, in our modern society, Macy's has replaced Mother as family clothier.

For my wife,  who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, sewing was something she learned to do in 4-H. By the time she was a teenager in 1965, she realized that she could have far more clothes in designs she liked if she bought material and made them by hand. She even crafted all three of her prom dresses. Her love of design and sewing was a logical extension of her art ability, which she discovered as an elementary school student. She studied art in college and ended her career in the field by managing an art gallery and custom frame shop.

Grandmom and granddaughter started doing art projects together as soon as Audrey was able to hold a crayon. Like her grandmother, Audrey exhibited both a talent and love for all things artistic. So, once again, as it had for her grandmother, art led to fashion design and sewing.

But, of course, direct instruction is only one way grandparents pass on interests, skills, and abilities to their grandchildren.

If you go back and look carefully at the pictures, you will see a framed poster hanging on the wall behind Audrey. That poster is an illustrated version of the late Maurice Sendak's poem "Chicken Soup with Rice". It hangs as a tribute to my mother, Mary Louise Ivins Price, who was grandmother to our son Michael, and great-grandmother to Audrey and her younger brother Owen (who, in another generational pass-down, is named for my father, Alvin Owen Price).

My mother was an elementary school teacher in New Jersey until she was forced to retire at age 70. As she had for me, she began reading to her only grandson at birth and taught him to read before he entered kindergarten. One of her favorite readings was "Chicken Soup and Rice". So Judy framed the Sendak poster and we gave it to Michael when he graduated Bucknell University. He took it with him when he got a Master's from Rutgers University and his doctorate from the University of Maryland. After three-year stays with his growing family in Nevada and Tennessee, "Chicken soup ..." arrived at its current location in Atlanta.

Now Audrey and Owen never met their great-grandmother, but Michael and I have told them many stories about her. Both of them are good readers and enjoy their books. I like to think that their great-grandmother's spirit has something to do with that. I also hope they think about her sometimes when they walk by the Sendak piece on the way to their rooms, often to do some more reading.

Alex Haley, the author of Roots, one of the greatest family stories ever told, once said: "Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. They sort of sprinkle stardust over [their] lives".

I borrowed part of that saying - Sprinkling Stardust - as the title for the blog I write about generational issues affecting both old and young. Just like Judy's sewing lessons, or the Sendak poem hanging on the wall, or the tales we tell our littlest loved ones before they fall asleep, my blog is a way to share what I have experienced and learned. 

And one of the things I have learned in my 64 years is that there are many, many ways to sprinkle stardust. I also know that it doesn't matter how you choose to do it. What matters is that you sprinkle your stardust as widely, as often, and as far as you can.