Sunday, July 22, 2012

Swing helps dad hold on to memory

By Taylor Wilson

To the north of our house a baby blue swing clings to the limb of a maple tree.
Dang maples! Their roots run along the ground, and eat lawnmower blades for breakfast, lunch and supper. I once set out to topple every maple tree ’round our house. But as I was standing there with chainsaw in hand, my friend and neighbor, Big Joe Wills, cut me short with a few words, “Taylor, you know me and your momma planted those trees.”
Darn it! Spared, the trees grow on “in memory of,” but I sometimes wonder if my mother doesn’t laugh from above as I circle all those roots on the mower, and struggle to keep their helicopter seeds out of the swimming pool.
And, well, this one specifically-spared maple does hold up the swing.
The chains that cleave to it are rusty and the limb’s bark has swallowed the links in most spots. The swing that used to be a brilliant blue and yellow is now faded and covered with collected layers of sap. The baby has grown that I used to push in the swing and laugh at as the south wind tickled his bare feet and put him to sleep. Why, he’s so big in a decade that his foot won’t fit in the swing, much less his whole body.
The swing now looks so weather-worn that I’ve apologized to visiting friends for leaving it in the tree. They understood: “Oh, at our last house we left behind one of those tire swings shaped like a horse. As far as we know it’s still hanging up, too, hopefully still being used,” my friends sympathized.
And so our swing hangs on, to a limb and a memory.
It’s easy enough to forget, as it hangs partially hidden from the sight of our porch by the tree’s trunk. Every once in a while, I see it kind of looming there, out of the corner of my eye, and I think about taking it down. But then I always manage to prune that notion.
To do so would say many things, perhaps, some of them painful. Maybe, my action would say/prove that time marches on, that I am getting old and fat, and that our youngster is growing up, whether I want him to or not?
Or maybe I am trying to shelve time, or at the least, stall it a bit?
Oh, I mow around it, too, dodging maple roots and pushing the swing about as I go under it on the mower; but again, I just can’t bring myself to take it down. What does it say of me, that I have Peter Pan Syndrome...with an aversion for growing up?
I mean, really, it’s all just a piece of plastic, rusty chains, a growing tree, and a memory.
That it kind of hides while hanging there, behind the maple, might even offer salvation of sorts. Otherwise, Beth might make me take it down. Or maybe, just maybe, she feels the same way about the swing?
I do recall once she shared a similar sentiment. It was a time when we were ridding our son's room of “baby stuff,” going up and down the stairs with tiny clothes and toys. That’s when my wife had a similar avoid-taking-down-the-swing fit.
“I have to sit down,” she said, after a trip or two up and down the stairs carrying baby things away.
“What’s wrong, old woman?” I asked, taking a seat on a step beside here. “Are the stairs too much for you?”
“No,” she said, a tear welling and tracing her cheek. “It’s just overwhelming; he’s growing up!”
I chuckled a bit, and mumbled an understanding, but I did not tell her about the swing. (I guess I didn’t want to admit the growing truth.)
Secretly, I have pondered if the reason she has not told me to take it down is because it is kind of hidden from view? Out of sight, out of mind? Then too, it might be that she also wants it to hang around? I am afraid to ask.
You know, it’s silly when you think about it, a grown man trying to stave off time by leaving a plastic toddler swing hanging in a maple tree. But as my friends hinted, when they came over, I may not be alone. Many are the rusty swing sets I have seen in people’s backyards. Likewise, the numbers of tree houses I have seen rot away outnumber those that were torn down at an apropos time.
And what does it hurt, hanging there—my vain attempt to put a pause button on a time warp? Our children really do grow up fast!
Still, it’s a security swing, if not blanket. It gives me comfort just hanging around. And even now, if I close my eyes, I can hear a baby giggle while seemingly soaring beneath the limbs of a maple. And yep, I could take it down tomorrow, if I get orders to do so. But rest assured I wouldn’t want to do that.
In my mind’s eye, this is how I’d prefer it play out: I’d like for a younger, smarter and better-looking (and they will not have to work hard to beat me at that) descendant take it down one day. “Really, who knows why Great-Great Grandpa Taylor left these old chains and swing WAY up here in this tree?” some grown, multi-great grandkid might ponder, while looking up.“They tell me he always was crazy!”
Nope, it probably won’t happen that way. But then, one, like the swing, has to hang on to hope and memories.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Baseball Rituals Hit ‘The Spot’

By Taylor Wilson

John Evans points to proof of The Spot.
Not to over-state the obvious, but my wife thinks I am crazy. She especially comes to such conclusions when we go to baseball games. (Note we have attended nearly 100 or so youth league games since March. This does not count minor league visits or games on TV or radio. That said, Beth thinks I am crazy pretty much ’round the clock.)
“Why do you want to park in the same spot all the time?” she asks pondering my parking near the ball field.
Our son looks at me and rolls his eyes...knowing full well, his baseball team has been on a winning streak. “Baseball is full of superstition, Mom! Don’t you know!?! It’s a lucky spot!”
Yep, for good or bad, I have converted the youngster to the superstitions, rituals and taboos that run rampant in baseball, for both players and fans.
“NEVER...EVER step on a foul line, unless you are making a play,” I once warned him.
Now, my wife is no stranger to diamonds, well, at least those made of dirt.  Why she, herself was a wild and likewise kinda-crazy softball player that would not stop when making a turn at third base, even if  battleship anchors were tied to both ankles! Beth’s played more games than most. Still, she is not sold on sports magic, mojo or mumbo jumbo. Maybe it is because she majored in psychology...and knows it all a waste of time, if not mind? She probably suspects such things can make one crazy.
But again, myself? Well, I fall on the side that fate can be swayed on a diamond. It all carries over from my own days as a player. I remember playing one summer season where I knew our team’s string of wins HAD to be connected to drinking orange Sunkist. Because of it, I think I wore a perpetually-orange peach-haired mustache. I was certain the beverages got me and my fellow players all the way to a state play-off, where we got pummeled, yet might have won...had I not substituted Orange Crush (which is irony at best considering the latter drink’s name and result/score).
These days, as a mere fan (and maybe a outlandish fan, note aforementioned game numbers this spring and summer) I still carry with me the concept that there is some sort of magic linked to your team’s baseball success. Fan is short for fanatic, you know?
Of course, my ritualistic choices are made with suspicion that, "Hey, it just might work.” If it doesn’t and the team loses? Well, it’s solely because I made the wrong choice in ritual; it has nothing to do with players or coaches. Rituals carry that kind of weight.
And on that fanatical foundation is where I stood at a recent youth league tournament where my son was playing. Our team was trailing by several runs in the championship game, and in addition to all other game-on rituals, I was walking around looking for a lucky spot to stand. By the way, this is perfectly normal in a cross-your-fingers, don’t-talk-about-a-no-hitter, wear-the-same-color, eat-only-chicken-pre-game, keep-your-fielder’s-glove-in-a-Wonder-Bread-bag, wear-a-rally-cap, carry-a-four-leaf-clover kind of way. Of course, I know well, no matter the charm, ritual or juju, one still has to test the water of fortune, from game to game, especially to change one’s luck after a loss or while in a bad situation. So I experimented with several places to stand and watch the game. My efforts were seemingly to no avail...nothing would go right, no matter where I stood or sat. So, I kept moving and looking and trying to draw a smile from Fortune.
Then I saw it. There on the ground was a perfectly round circle of dead grass about the size of a garbage can lid, not far from where the other sane non-superstitious parents/fans were sitting. I think it was created when someone left a garbage can sitting on the grass in 104-degree heat. Heck, it even looked like a spot! Why overlook the obvious? So there I stood and mumbled the words, “Beam me up, Scotty” like Star Trek’s Captain Kirk. (Catch phrases can also be lucky.)
It worked! We got a base runner followed by two more. Eureka! But just when I thought it was working, one of our players flied out. I promptly did what any other sane baseball fan would do; I recruited a friend to stand in The Spot. Remember, experiment!
Also acknowledge that baseball fans, no matter how crazy you are, there is always somebody out there that is better at it than you are. And there appeared my friend, John Evans. He seemed as nice, likely, gullible and crazy as the next guy. So I put him on The Spot.
“Just try it out,” I coaxed, and muttered another “Beam me up, Scotty!”
Now John, like my wife, knows the cheese fell off my cracker long time ago. Our sons have been longtime teammates. He is also kind of used to me putting him on the spot in more ways than one. One year, when leading a coach-pitch team I was kicked out two times for various indiscretions such as NOT saying a word and NOT getting off the field after the ball went in to play.
At that tourney it got to where, John would simply shake his head, take the ball and say, “What have you done, now?!?” By the way, he was undefeated in coach-pitch relief. We long debated whether the team would win for their fallen/discarded coach (me), or because John finally proved to be someone that could throw them something they could actually hit? I think it is because I was drinking orange Sunkist!
Anyway, familiar with being my backup of sorts, John stood there on The Spot for the remainder of the game...which turned out to be the better part of an hour! The longer he stood there, the better our team seemed to do.
So he couldn’t leave. Fate locked him in. But I stood beside him and muttered the beam-me-up catch phrase, and tried to keep others from coming up and “crowding” The Spot. (You know there is only so much mojo that can go around!)
John’s wife Susan even helped, though I am not quite sure she became a true believer. She did herd little kids away from The Spot or maybe more appropriately: she kept them away from the two crazy guys practicing baseball voodoo.
Somewhere along the line of our good luck, John did mention a restroom break. But Susan and I both agreed he would simply have to sacrifice for the benefit/fortune of the team.
“Just try not to think of waterfalls or lawn sprinklers,” I encouraged.
“Beam me up, Scottie,” John replied.
You know, I am not quite sure, but John might have actually been hopping (maybe it was the excitement?) on The Spot when our team made the final out—for the WIN!
Oh, there was a mixture celebration (and relief, from John)...for the victory as much as for a round, dead patch of grass that had obviously helped a lot. And John, now able to move from The Spot, and I discussed making and marketing a do-it-yourself “Win With The Spot Kit.” We could sell good fortune! It would allow crazy baseball youth league fans everywhere to go to ballparks and create a lucky Spot of their very own . We figured the kit could include a garbage can lid and a bottle of herbicide. RONCO here we come: “Yes, you get ALL this, but wait, there’s MORE! For just $10 (plus shipping and handling) you get NOT ONE, but TWO GARBAGE CAN LIDS!” Sure, the discussion included a vague mention of destruction of property liability...killing grass in Adamsville, etc., but we could iron that out later.
And with our kids’ team set to compete in the state tourney in Adamsville, Tenn., marketing strategies could wait. We also pondered going over in advance and killing a few round patches of grass on the championship fields for luck in the tourney ahead.
            Ah, nonsense you say.
Maybe you’re right. After all, as the song says, “Luck is believing you’re lucky, and having just a little bit of faith.” Others simply say luck is hard work, which is also sound advice. And of course, weeks of hard work and practice by players and coaches might have been a BIG part of the win, too? I have no doubt that’s true...but still, I just can’t shake the superstitious suspicion that having a John(ny) on the spot was a good thing, too.

NOTE: Have any baseball or sports-related superstitions? I’d like to hear ’em. E-mail me at

Also, to learn more about baseball’s strange way of working mojo among fans and players (and why), you might want to read more via this link It is by George Gmelch and offers a somewhat logical view as to why baseball folks are caught up in superstitions. Another fun read (with audio) about fan rituals is this story from NPR :

A Brave, Kind Heart: A Valentine’s Day Column In July

By Taylor Wilson
July 2012
Note: There’s always a story behind the story, and this one is no different. I wrote the notes for this column on a Mead steno pad years ago, around the time it happened...with good intentions. Today, facing the muzzle of a blank laptop screen, I went into my desk and dug them out. It all happened on Valentine’s Day weekend 2010. Intentions were to write it as a Valentine’s Day column but time just kept slipping by. And today, I remembered the story and felt the need to write it for several reasons. Among them were to tell my wife how special I think she is, and to let our son know how fortunate he is to have such a unique person as his mom. Who knows? Maybe they will read it? (She had no idea why I took this photo of her goofing around!)
It was slim pickings around our house come Valentine’s Day. A broken pickup truck and a busted laptop were atop a long list of things that needed repair. The predicament left me cursing and calling out to heaven: “X$%&^%$#@! Why can’t I have just one thing that is not broken or about to be?”
Now God didn’t answer me, not right away, anyway. He just provided the classroom for learning; and He laughed, I am sure, knowing the answer was by my side.
With the budget well digested and dispersed amongst fixing things, we still managed enough for a Valentine’s Day family meal. And to tell the truth, I don’t even remember where we went. I do recall that with the pestering of our son, we stopped at GameStop (a video game store). BIOSHOCK was the “new” game on the horizon according to all the cardboard cut-outs scattered about the storefront window.
And a “bioshock” definitely met us when we went in the store. In short, it smelled like “poopy” (and I am being polite, here). Despite the stench, I laughed and said to my son, “Bioshock!?! I know that’s right! Somebody in here has released several doses of Bioshock!”
“Dad, you’re embarrassing me!” my kid whispered.
“Good,” I thought aloud and mentioned to him that the task goes with the job description of being a dad.
There was this teenager behind the counter dealing reality and dashing dreams. He was the one that told other kids that their old video games were not worth half of what they believed. Now, this particular employee was wearing so much jewelry in his face alone that he couldn’t make it through Memphis International. And me, still doling out wisecracks, pointed out to my son, “That may be what you have to try and look like when you choose video games as a career...”
“Dad! SHHHHHH!!!!!!!!! Be quiet!” said my irritated son.
Admittedly, at about this time I did I feel badly when I realized my poor attempts at humor and the store’s aroma was caused by an infant in need of a diaper change. Still, everyone that came in the door was greeted with The Scent. And as it turned out, a whiff of it was so far from fragrant that it could spark more than snide comments.
Next, another dad, a huge, broad-shouldered, linebacker-sized man came in with a tiny child in his shadow. And upon their entrance, the diaper scent wrapped around them, too. It proved no good combination for the younger newcomer, especially post-lunch.
BLEEECCCKKK! Bleck! That was the sound the kid spewed forth, followed by an ensuing splatter of projectile vomit.
“DUDE!” said the bejeweled and studded GameStopper from behind the counter. (I think his nose ring/chain or whatever that was, may have even rattled a little, upon the realization that dirty diapers and vomit could be twice as bioshocking as any video game.
Oh then, then and there was quite the commotion, shuffling, shifting, it was a mass Exodus for the entrance. All the while, the embarrassed, concerned and mountain of a dad scurried to comfort and likewise hustle his sick youngster toward the door.
The register jockey and his buds laughed, and I enjoyed the knowledge that they had yet to realize—one of ’em would have to clean it up.
Now being a dad, I had experienced a similarly sick kid with projectile vomiting before...once even while my then toddler was confined to a car seat in the cab of truck going somewhere close to the speed limit. It was a helpless feeling. Probably the same one this dad had—a mixture of concerned and panic. But then, I saw her, this lady with long and curly hair that I knew once flamed brighter red, before wisdom claimed some of its tint. In purpose-driven fashion, she hurried out of the store. I watched her, somewhat amazed but in a knowing way, and followed as she went to work. Beth went up to the big guy tending the puke-covered kid in the parking lot and spoke to him at a time when obviously no one else would. Then she stormed out to our mini-van and returned with a package of Wet Wipes.
“Here you go,” she said to father and son. “It’s OK, everybody gets sick now and then,” she told the little one.
“Bless you!” said the big man in a Jolly Green Giant voice. Then he dabbed his kid with a handful of Wet Wipes.
“Oh, it is will be alright,” my wife confirmed.
And with that, a little compassion came and went in the world. A small, everyday slice of life that's easy to overlook but when noticed, always hints to me that we humans do have potential. Some of us are able to care, even when it is not comfortable to do so.
The father-son team drove away and my wife went back in the store with our son. I stayed outside, breathing fresh air, and thought about how lucky I was that Beth and I went to second grade together.
We were in Mrs. Sybil Williams room in 1970-something. Coincidentally, it’s a time that spawned another famous family Valentine’s Day story. That would be the time a second-grade me stomped up to her and shoved a Valentine’s card at her and said, “Here’s your Valentine’s Day card! My momma MADE me give you one!”
“I was heart-broken,” she later confessed, and even today admits she had quite the crush on me. (Yeah, I know...she should’ve had her vision checked way back then!)
Also, admittedly, many times afloat in those reflections, that small heartbreak is one I wish I could take back. But from it came so much good in my life. Yep, she got her card...via my mother’s orders. She became persistent has females can do, and changed my heart and way of thinking. And after many years of marriage, I have often joked that the outcome has several lessons. Among them:
1.) Never underestimate the willpower of a woman to get what she wants!
2.) Be careful what you wish for! (She is stuck with me, now.)
3.) Moms are always right. I thank God often that my mother had the good sense to make me give that little red-haired girl a card not much bigger than a postage stamp. I would give a $100 for a copy of that little card today, if I could afford it. Things are still breaking or broken ’round here. But life is good, too. Some things are unbreakable.
Yep. Lessons learned. It’s easy to curse the dark, even when we are surrounded by light.
Later, on the same day we survived bioshock, I sat alone with my son as my wife ran an errand.
“I want you to know something about your mom. Did you see anyone else in that store trying to help that sick kid and his dad?” I asked.
“No, Dad, but they smelled it and were about to throw up themselves...” my son said.
“Maybe, but I am just trying to tell you that few people will do that—step forward in a crowd and help a stranger. I want you to remember what your mom did, and I imagine what she nearly always will do. Next time, you are acting up; remember the kind of person you are dealing with...a kind, brave heart. She is quite the Valentine.”
 Now, did this lesson sink in? Does my son even remember it today? Well, probably not. If at all, it is probably just the memory of some kid puking a GameStop. He was just a little older than I was when I met his mom. But maybe the lesson will resurface one day, when his hair has likewise lost some tint to wisdom. Maybe time will allow him realize how lucky we are to have her in our lives?