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Archive for the month “September, 2012”

Filling in the Gap 1998-2012

I have one sister who is two and a half years older than me.  She is a very caring person who has a very big heart!  I always thought that she could be an artist.  She has the natural abilities that you just don’t see.  She is left handed and she can draw so well!  She made a cartoon book for my son one time that simply looked professional!  She illustrated the book that I wrote in 1997 and she has been there through the ups and downs in my life.  She was very close to my late daughter Rebecca and it hurt her very much when she died.

Pictured on left: Her Secret Agent sketch we used in the book!

Right: This is a gardener picture my sister created for my book!

My sister and I have a lot of memories of our parents..  Sometimes we will talk about the time when this or that happened and what we thought.  We will talk about how mom or dad reacted or what they did that was really meaningful.  Mom and dad died in 1997 about three weeks apart.  It was cancer that took them, first dad and mom three weeks later.  My sister is single and was the caretaker for my dad during his sickness.  She was an employee at the hospital and got him the best cancer doctor she knew.  Mom and her were almost like sisters.  There was such a love there and they got along so well.  Her and mom were always together.  Where you would see one, you would see both!  After 1997 with both of them gone my sister had a very hard time finding her footing.  She struggled in adjusting to life without her best friend and a dad that she loved dearly.

Living alone and struggling for a year she decided to get a dog.  There was a West Highland Terrier in the paper that she was interested in. It turned out the owner was a gal that she worked with years ago.  The news wasn’t good however.  “I have someone coming out who is ninety percent sure she wants him,” the lady said.  My sister told her “call that lady back and tell her the dog is sold, I am one hundred percent sure I want him and I’ll be right over there!”  My sister can be very persuasive.  On her way she made a quick stop at the store and ran through on a mission,  grabbing a dog cage and dog food and other assorted dog items.  She was excited as she prepared for a new member of her family.  Someone who would be there when she returned  and cared that she came home.   She made the purchase, named him Teddy (because he perked up at the sound of the name), and brought him home.

My first impression of Teddy quite honestly was that he was wild.  He was so excited to see people he was playfully jumping up on us.  Typical of a young puppy he had an accident on a visit to our house on the living room carpet that made nobody very happy.  We could see though that Teddy brought my sister happiness and gave her the company and friendship she was missing.  She was far less depressed as she now had something to occupy her thoughts and her energies.

In the years to follow Teddy was joined in the household by Yvonne.  Yvonne was also a West Highland Terrier who needed a home.  Yvonne was a former show dog for the people who owned the Grand Hotel, and she seemed to walk around with that show dog image.  She was always tame, never got extra excited, and was very obedient.  Yvonne was five years old when my sister got her.  Teddy was not happy at first that Yvonne was around.  He was not used to  having competition and now she was there too.  As time went on the two became very close.    They enjoyed each others company and companionship.  A few years later Yvonne was suffering from an incurable disease and had to be put down.  Teddy did not eat for a week in his grieving.  Of course my sister was very hurt by Yvonne’s death.  She sent for two girl West Highland puppies three months later from Minnesota to fill the gap that Yvonne left,  to give companionship to her precious Teddy, and to possibly breed some more West Highland Terrier dogs.  She named them Lexi (Alexandra) and Libby (Elizabeth) both queen names, the latter named after my mom. For the last few years it has been my sister and the three dogs.

In January of last year my sister was attempting to start an exercise program.  She was going at a brisk walking pace when her friend thought it would be better to speed the treadmill machine up even faster.  As she struggled to keep up my sister distinctly felt something happen in her chest.  She quickly got off of the machine but the damage was done.   The next day she  had a scheduled appointment to have the doctor check on her blood pressure.  Luckily the doctor decided to do a chest x-ray  also and he discovered the damage.    She had suffered a dissected aortic aneurysm plus bilateral carotid arteries.  She was admitted to the local hospital and a decision was made to helicopter her to the University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor where they were more specialized.   She had a friend who she had take care of her dogs for her.  The friend would come over and feed them and make sure their water was fresh.  I stopped over one day while she was there and Teddy looked me in the eye with a tilted head.  I could tell he was questioning in his own way where my sister was and what was going on?  I wish I could have explained to him and had him understand exactly what was happening.  I could tell how much he was concerned.

That tilted head quizzical look…I wished I was able to communicate where his master was

Teddy didn’t understand that my sister was very sick and staying at this hospital one hundred miles away

When my sister finally got to come home three weeks later  Teddy at first was mad.  Somehow though he began to understand that my sister was really sick and changed his demeanor to caring. I’m sure the other dogs cared also, but it was Teddy who seemed to care the most!  My sister was given blood pressure pills and if she got off of schedule Teddy could sense it.  He instinctively realized that taking those pills was helping her get better and would nudge her purse with his nose when she forgot.  Teddy has always been alert to when my sister was sick and acted as her care giver, much like my sister did with my dad.  He hung around closely when he sensed she was not feeling well to offer anything that he could give to help.

Sometimes on the road of life we struggle due to circumstances to find our footing.  Maybe like my sisters situation someone that was very special in our life has been taken away.  We pray to God for help and he answers our prayer.  Sometimes he keeps friends in our life who help us bridge gaps of days gone by and now.  These friends can make us feel younger and inspired because they know us like a book, and we know them!  We remember our good times together and we remember where we were and where we are.  We are grateful to these friendships that last a lifetime and fill the space of continuity in our lives.

The road of life can take unexpected turns

There  are times that God answers our prayers in a different way .  The prayer may be a simple cry for help, but God knows what is needed.  He knows that sometimes a replacement is necessary.  Something or someone who won’t take  the memories away, but will add to our memories and occupy our time.  Maybe he creates a situation in our life where someone else learns to understand us.  God is not limited in his ways to answer our prayers, after all, he created the whole universe!  Just as my sister uses different tools in her art work, God uses different tools too!    Sometimes he brings friends, other people, or even events into our lives that fill the gap we are missing.  Other times he uses other means from his  creation, such as a dog like Teddy!

Last week when I returned from the gym there was a message on the phone.  It was my sister and she was hysterical.  It seems that she was sitting in her favorite chair with her favorite dog Teddy in her lap as she often did.  She talked to Teddy and he seemed to know exactly what she was feeling.  In this case she was very tired.  Teddy was a good guard dog and always barked when someone seemed to be out of place.  Teddy went out the dog door in the back while my sister fell asleep.  Apparently someone was wandering around outside the fence.  The last thing she remembered was Teddy giving out a bark of warning.  A while later there was a knock on her door from her neighbor saying one of her dogs was apparently laying in the back yard.  My sister discovered his dead body and his loss was like she had lost a son.

The thing that is missing when visitors come to her house now is Teddy in the window.  He was always the first to peek through the curtains and bark to let her know someone was there.  I’m sure that when my sister gets to heaven Teddy will be recreated to be with her.  She will be welcomed by my parents and our loved ones that have passed.  As for now she can remember the good little dog she had in Teddy.  The name “Teddy” it turns out means God’s gift.  A gift that God called to bridge a gap and fill the void, whose mission is now complete.

The Seed Became A Rose

My dad told me a true story a few times during the years.  He told it to me more than once because it was a story that illustrated the point that things aren’t always how they appear.  Much like the saying “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover.”   There was this giant movie theater that was built in this town years ago.  It was the only one in town and it made money hand over fist.  A very common man dressed in plain attire, (very clean but very casual), asked the theater owner if he could sell some popcorn outside the theater.  He was granted his request more or less on the pity that the theater owner felt for him.  After all the theater owner was making so much money every day and here this guy looked to be struggling and needed a break.  His little popcorn stand was very plain, but he was there every day.  Nobody thought much of the popcorn stand owner.  They were just glad he was there so they could buy their ten cent popcorn.  One day a few years later the theater owner decided to sell his very profitable theater.  There was speculation from all over as to which of the towns wealthiest residents might be interested and if they could come up with the needed funds to make the purchase.  Nobody was shocked when the business was sold in very short order.  Everyone was floored when they found out that the buyer was the guy with the popcorn stand!

My impression of peoples success  has taken  a solid u-turn at times.  I used to help people with their finances.  It was pretty basic stuff.  Getting them to think about retirement even when they were younger.  Having them switch to term life insurance instead of paying expensive premiums. Investing in mutual funds instead of banks.  Anyway one of the things we used to do was find out what they owed and what their income was.  I was so stunned to see the other side of the equation.  People that I thought were doing so well because of their positions and their house were actually in financial ruins.  Even though their income might have been very substantial they were spending even more.  Even worse sometimes the commitment to make all of that money had taken it’s toll on their family.  We all invest our time in different ways and there has to be a balance to be successful.  Without that balance there are break downs as evident by some being on their second or third marriage.

So many times we look at someones position and we tend to categorize them.  We like to put people in categories.  I guess it is how we try to get things organized.  We relate this person to this job, and then to this level of talent and intelligence.  I always like the stories where someone isn’t thought as much, but down deep they have value nobody sees.  Unlike the story where someone is on a pedestal and we have to push them off, these are stories where the person starts at nowhere in our eyes and ends up on that pedestal!

Christopher Maloney is a 34 year old man who lives in Liverpool England.  He knew he had something that was very special.  Yet, his confidence was always shattered by his so called “friends.”  You see Christopher has a gift of singing.  At least he thought he might until bringing it up with friends.  Every time he mentioned that he would like to sing in public he was shot down.  “You would just make a bloody fool of yourself”, was the reply.  For years Christopher let his dream slide.  He had a grandma who encouraged him though.  “I am behind you 100% she told him.”  Maybe her encouragement is just what he needed!  Christopher was scared to death, but he decided to enter to become a contestant on a popular show called The X Factor.  It is a show where people get up and perform and judges score them.

Christopher decided to sing a song that seems to fit his story perfectly.  It was “The Rose” written by Amanda McBoom, and made famous by Bette Midler.  The lyrics that seem to describe Christopher before his appearance go like this.

It’s the heart, afraid of breaking, that never learns to dance.  It’s the dream, afraid of waking, that never takes a chance,  It’s the one who won’t be taken, who cannot seem to give, and the soul afraid of dying, that never learns to live.

Christopher wasn’t thought of as much when he walked on stage.  He was shaking so bad that it was unclear if he would even be able to perform.  Yet, when he got some composure and started singing heads perked up.  Instead of a man who the judges thought would be a total failure came a voice they couldn’t believe, with emotion I have very rarely heard in a song!  Christopher sang and lived the last lyrics of his song!  Just remember in the winter, far beneath the bitter snow,  lies the seed that with the sun’s love,  in the spring becomes the rose.

The Proving Of My Faith

by Lewis Hamilton
From the book “The Gardener and My Garden” c1997

It’s easy to praise the Lord
when I’m on a mountain high
or I’m soaring in the air
up where the eagles fly

It’s easy to praise him
when life is going right
and it doesn’t seem the devil
is putting up a fight

But what will I do when troubles come
and I’m not feeling the power?
Will I cling to my faith in him
when I’m in my trying hour?

When I reach my lowest depth
will I take time to pray
or will I lose my grip on faith
and let it slip away?

Unproven faith is not faith at all,
this truth of faith I’ve found
The proving of my faith comes only
when I’m on my lowest ground.

Therefore, among God’s churches we
boast about your perseverance and
faith in all the persecutions and trials
you are enduring.

II Thessalonians 1:4

Racing On Empty

I heard a story once about a rich guy who died and went to Heaven. Even though he was rich for much of his lifetime he was generous with his money. He gave to a variety of charities and was captured several times in newspaper photo’s giving to the needy. When he went to receive his award he was sure that his charitable contributions would be mentioned. After all everyone made such a big deal on earth about how he gave and what good came out of it. He was surprised when not one of his charitable contributions were mentioned in Heaven. Instead he was praised for something that he did that nobody else knew about. “Here is your reward for feeding my birds”, he was told. Unknown to anyone else he used to take his walks in the park bringing a bag of crumbled bread with him to feed the birds.

We may be surprised by what is really important

Back in 1972 there wasn’t the running craze that we see today. Almost anywhere I drive today I will see somebody out jogging. Back then the only ones that were out running were students trying to get into shape to run a sport called Cross Country. In eighth grade my best friend in school was named Matt. We were on the same basketball team for a little while. One day another coach came to our practice. This coach was forming a travel team that would go around and compete at a higher level against other travel teams. I was the shortest player on our team. The travel team coach had no interest in me, but chose four of our taller players for his team. Matt was one of the chosen four. I found out later that Matt got very discouraged with basketball because that whole year he rode the bench.

I think that during 9th grade gym class the teacher discovered that Matt had a knack for running. The gym teacher was also the coach of the Cross Country team. He encouraged Matt to come out for the team and Matt did and performed really well! As a freshman Matt was competing at the varsity level. He might have been the 6th or 7th runner but he was in the mix. Matt was a tall skinny kid who seemed to be born to run! I was not deaf to the success Matt was having! His name was being announced in the morning announcements as to what place he was coming in for the races. That next summer with the encouragement of Matt I went out for the team. Matt had told me that unlike basketball there was no bench in Cross Country. You could be as good as you wanted to be!

The first time I ran it was a hot day and we met at the school. The coach wasn’t there at first and I ran with the group that was there. I was told that it was a six mile run. I had never ran more than one mile in my life but felt comfortable with this group. I didn’t know that you were supposed to stretch before you ran. I just took off running with the rest of them. Later when the coach saw new guys out there he seemed very cautious. “You new guys be careful”, he warned, “don’t overdo it”, he called out again.

I survived that first day just fine! I surprised myself that I could run so far. The coaches goal was to first get our wind up. He wanted us to be able to run and not tire. Steadily the distances he had us run increased. We might have ran six miles one day, seven another, eight the third, then six the fourth day and maybe four the fifth day. On the Friday if he scheduled only four miles it was like a breeze! As I think about it now four miles is a long long way to run. I would have a hard time running a mile now. But by building us up the four mile run was like a jog in the park!

With so many runners in each road race my chances at a ribbon looked bleak

Perhaps the most accolades I have ever received from running occurred in an odd way! Our coach decided that summer that we should get involved in the road races that were held near our local community college. The races would take place each week and the distances would be greater each week. I think they started with a three mile race and increased it to four. Then five and finally six and a half. The week they did the six and a half they also did a half a marathon or 13 miles. It was the same course, but the half marathon was twice around. Each week I ran in the race and each week I was finishing way back in the pack. The top 10 places were given ribbons. How I wanted one of those ribbons but the dream of getting a top ten place was a distant dream. Usually there were maybe 75-100 runners. I was probably finishing somewhere in the middle of the pack. The last week was different. Because there were two races going on we had to sign up for either one or the other. Almost everyone signed up for the shorter 6.5 mile race. I counted the contestants for the half marathon. There were only six. I decided that I would try it and became the seventh contestant. I figured if I could finish I would get my one and only ribbon!

A couple of miles down the road I met Fred

Knowing that I was going to run a long distance I paced myself. Maybe a mile or two down the road I noticed an older guy that was running my pace. We started talking and I found out his name was Fred and he was 56 years old. Fred was running the half marathon too. We talked about a lot of things I don’t remember now, but time went by much faster talking to Fred. We almost forgot we were racing as we ran stride for stride. Fred wasn’t real interested in the race. He was concerned with finishing. Mile after mile I ran with Fred. I’m thinking the race started at six or seven. I do know that as the miles wore on the sun started setting. Finally after much conversation with my 56 year old friend and about two hours after I started, we were about a quarter of a mile from the finish line. Being a fifteen year old kid I still wanted to finish ahead of Fred. Fred told me to go ahead, he was keeping the pace he was on. Slowly I increased my speed. In the distance I saw the finish line. I saw the line so clear in the dark because my coach had his car lights on it. He started blowing his horn over and over and was extremely happy when I finished. Some of my teammates who ran the shorter race had waited around with the coach too. They were so thrilled that I ran the big race and had finished ahead of someone! Actually I wouldn’t even call it a race. To me it was just like a practice run where I just kept pace with Fred and talked all the way. I don’t really remember being that tired after the “race”. It wasn’t like I really pushed myself other than to keep going.

The next day my name was in the paper. It wasn’t a big writeup. The winners were discussed and they mentioned that contestants ranged from 56 year old Fred to 14 year old me. They didn’t even get that right since I was actually 15. So I got my 6th place ribbon and my coach was really thrilled. Matt’s mom, who seemed to be my biggest supporter was raving that my name was in the paper. That was the one and only time I got my name in the paper and Matt didn’t. They all made such a big deal about that “race”, but in reality they shouldn’t have. I think the coach held it high because I had decided to run the longer race and I finished it. I think he was very surprised when he found out that I was still out there running instead of being done like all of my teammates.

The Fall came only too soon. School started and our season started in full gear. There were two kind of races that we did in Cross Country. One was called a dual meet where another school would come to your course or you would go to theirs. The other was an invitational meet where many schools would participate at once. Our coach found a course that was different than any others that we ran on. Our course was made up entirely of hills. On our course you were almost always running up a hill or down a hill. Every other course we ran on seemed to be flat. Our coach would have us practice extensively on those hills. We got to the point that we were used to the hills. Running up hills was a skill we learned. He told us to coast more going down hills and pass people going up the hill. When other teams came to our course they were startled to find how hilly it was. Being used to running on flat ground this was a major shock to their running. When we went to their courses it was like a picnic. Here we were used to running all of these hills and their courses were so flat! We were delighted to run their courses for a change! I did not have the natural ability that Matt did. He was tall, I was short. His strides were longer and he was more fluid. My biggest assets were that I had a lot of heart and like everyone on my team I was in superb condition. I would usually finish 8th or occasionally seventh in our dual meets on the JV which would usually be 4th or 5th on our team. My name was getting play in the morning announcement which was kind of nice! Matt’s varsity team was ranked in the top ten in the state!

Our course was mostly hills

There was a smaller guy named Greg that I admired as I watched him run in a varsity invitational. He ran for a rival high school down the road. Greg was one of the best runners in the state! I watched him run one time in a big meet and was so impressed. He wasn’t a big guy so I could relate my style to his. Greg was running maybe twenty five yards ahead of the pack. He ran his race from the front and made everyone else catch him which they seldom did. There was a kid named Jeff on our team. Jeff was usually the 7th man on the varsity. He had a style that drove the coach crazy. Jeff would run maybe ten or fifteen yards behind the pack. Steadily he would pass people and usually placed pretty well, but I can still hear the coach yelling “Jeff, the race is up here!”

I would try to run near the front but usually ended up in the middle. The pace would get too fast at the very front. Even though I was in superb condition, by the end of the races I was spent. Our coach made a film one time of us finishing races and to my embarrassment when he filmed me my face was in pain. It looked so bad that my teammates also watching started laughing. Sitting there, I almost felt like crying when my teammates made fun of me. The one person who wasn’t laughing was my coach. He mentioned to me that he thought it was great! He knew that I gave every ounce of everything that I had. At the very end of the year the coach made a film of us doing a leisurely run. It would be something he would use to get people interested in running. “No painful faces” he stressed. “This is to encourage people not turn them completely off.” The film was so fake because we were all smiles as we ran into the cameras view. Nothing like the reality of the pain we endured during the races.

As I mentioned in dual meets I was placing 7th or 8th. In the big meets I was normally in the twenties. I was a middle of the pack runner with potential to improve in the years ahead as my body filled out and I got stronger. When I was running I probably stood 5’4 and weighed maybe 110 pounds. At the end of the season something happened that probably curtailed my desire to keep running the rest of my high school years, I got hurt.

As I was running two weeks before the Conference Invitational, I developed a blister on the bottom of my foot. That whole week of training every step I took was painful. To lessen the pain I tensed my foot up so the blister part wouldn’t take the whole impact of my foot hitting the ground. The next week my foot swelled up. I told my coach about it and he had me take my sock off. “OK”, he said, “stay off it today and we will check it tomorrow.” That went on for the whole week. The rest did my foot good, and after the weeks rest the foot was back to normal. I was surprised to find that I was penciled in to run the event that Saturday, after I wasn’t able to run at all for the whole week.

I started strong, but after the first mile my gauge was on empty!

The race was ran on our course, which was the hilly one. There were fifty five runners, and I started strong as I always did. Something very strange happened though after the first mile. I discovered that already I was out of gas. I had two miles to go, and didn’t have anything left. Anyone that has ran will tell you that the training puts fuel in your tank. Without that training the last week I simply ran out of fuel. Yet there were two miles to go. Up the hills and down the hills, I struggled on. My face must have looked like it usually did when I finished races, because I was in pain. Onward I went, one step after another. I found myself losing touch with the leaders and instead of being competitive, it was a matter of survival. I remember the cheerleaders were there, and they were trying to cheer me on, out of pity I think. I struggled on for two miles, with absolutely nothing in the tank, I finished the race. I finished fifty first out of fifty five runners. The miracle of it all was that I beat four runners on sheer guts. When I finished that race there were no horns blowing. There was not a beaming coach telling me how great I was. Being young and sensitive my pride was really hurt finishing so far back. The coach consoled me later saying that the reason I placed so poorly was because I couldn’t train that week. I knew something was terribly wrong after the first mile. I was surprised how much stamina it had taken out of me. Even with the kind words of the coach, I was really disappointed with my finish at that time. It probably was a factor in why I didn’t run my last two years. That Monday morning my name wasn’t mentioned on the announcements. Meanwhile Matt Kept improving! He went from 38th in the state as a sophomore (where annually over 125 runners compete), to 37th as a junior and an incredible ninth as a senior!

As I look back at my last race from a perspective of wisdom that the passing of the years brings, I think it was my very best! It’s true that it was my worst time for any meet that I ran. It’s also true that I finished way back in the pack. But while the other runners had plenty of fuel, I ran on sheer guts for two miles, with nothing left. Running up and down those hills, I never gave up. I was more tired after that race than all of the others. It was like my motor stopped working after one mile, and I had to push the car the final two miles.

Maybe you are struggling like I was

If you are running a race in life where you feel you can’t go on, there is hope! God is there to make your empty tank full! You may be hurting like I hurt, as I tried to run up those hills with nothing left to fuel me. Your pride might be hurting, like mine when you are giving your all, but the results say otherwise. When every step you take becomes a sharp pain, God is there to ease that pain. So many times our will is strong, but our bodies are weak. There are also times that our spirit gets down, and it is hard to bring it back up. When we can’t do it on our own, God is there to pick us up! Troubles come when we compare successes we have enjoyed in the past, and the failure we feel now. You are not a failure to God! When nobody is cheering, he is. When encouragement is not heard around us, he speaks it into our spirit! The world measures success by results. God measures success by our effort to follow him! He recognizes the little things that may go completely unnoticed by those around us. When we feel like our race is hopeless, God comes by and lifts us up to higher ground! Know that God cares, when it seems nobody else does! He knows our unique situation, and he is there to help. One day he will reward us for things nobody thought were very special. He see’s things like intent and where our heart is. To him our best races might not be the ones we won. They might be the ones where we were racing uphill on empty with nothing left in us but a desire to keep going!

With God we can soar like the eagles!

Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:30-31

A Baseball Game and War

I couldn’t believe my eyes! I was at a flea market earlier this week and I saw it! It was on a table as clear as life. I have looked on ebay so many times for this game that I enjoyed in my childhood. I’ve found it but couldn’t justify paying $75-$100 for a childhood memory. It couldn’t be just any of the versions either. It had to be my particular version from the year 1966. When I was nine years old I got this baseball game. I don’t remember if it was for Christmas or what the occasion was but it was called All-Star Baseball Game and it was made by Cadaco. When I asked the vendor how much he wanted for the game I couldn’t believe my ears. “Five dollars”, he said. I couldn’t get the five dollars out of my pocket fast enough! He obviously didn’t value it nearly as much as I did!

There it was! I couldn’t believe my eyes!

What gave the game it’s uniqueness was how they made it so realistic. They took statistics from players in the major leagues and made round cardboard discs of that player that represented his performance statistically. For instance if a player hit a home run five percent of the time the home run number on his disc would be five percent of the total space. The discs were put on a spinner and there were two spinners (one for each side). The player not batting had a spinner to spin too. If the player batting spun a number representing a fly ball the other player would spin to see if his team caught it. The same was true for a ground ball. On hits the defensive player would spin to see how many bases the other runner on base got or if he possibly could throw out a runner stretching a hit.

Baseball discs scientifically made!

My cousin Wendell and I would spend the night at each others house often. The neat thing about it was that we were allowed to stay up as late as we wanted to. Of course we did it in the summer so school wasn’t involved. He or his older brother Lawrence had an All-Star Baseball game too. I’m not sure whose game it actually was but it was available to us! There were times Lawrence played right along with us even though he was 5 or 6 years older.

The game board and spinners (a game of chance)

The game would start with drafting players. We would put all of the discs in a big pile and then take turns pulling players for our teams out of the mix. You had to fill all of the positions and then maybe add a few subs. Then we would take 5 or 6 pitchers each and we were ready to go. We would sit there long into the night playing the game. Spinning the spinner over and over. Moving our pegs from base to base. Figuring team statistics after the games.

One time that I remember as clear as if it were yesterday I was spending the night at Wendell’s and we were playing the baseball game. His brother Lawrence was there too but he wasn’t playing with us that night. Lawrence was 18 and he was a very skinny excitable kid although at the time I didn’t think of him as a kid. He also smoked a lot and on this particular night or morning he was smoking more than usual. He was very talkative and at this particular time he was talking even more than usual. But it wasn’t his normal talk. It was more of a nervous scared kid as he listened to the radio. My memory tells me it was at night but it doesn’t make much sense because of what was happening. Like the way Wendell and I were drafting our players Lawrence was involved in a different draft. On that morning or night they were in the process of picking dates of the first 18 year old boys to get drafted to go to Vietnam. Each birthday was drawn out of a baseball cap (in my imagination) and the first ones drawn would be the first to get drafted. The radio was broadcasting it like a baseball game. They would pick a date and pause for a little while and pick another date. All the while Lawrence was smoking one right after another and scared out of his wits. He couldn’t get very excited when his number wasn’t called because he knew the next one could get him. It was almost like he was in the war and the enemy was shooting at him. Trying to dodge the bullets was a skinny kid whose life had seemingly just begun but now faced a decisive day as to it’s future.

My next door neighbor Bob and I were good friends. His brother Al served in Vietnam. Since he was much older than me I accepted the fact that he was gone away more easily. Finally after he served his time Al got his discharge. Instead of letting his parents know Al had something else in mind. We lived within walking distance of the airport. Al decided to fly in and make the walk to his parents house and surprise them. What a surprise it was when Al showed up on the doorstep. There were tears of joy on a day that was long remembered!

Looking back the irony of that day at Wendell’s was mind boggling. Here Wendell and I were spinning the spinner with our disc in place. Lawrence sitting there with the radio on smoking up a storm. In reality it was like he was in a separate game. Maybe his game would be called “War” and it seemed that game was played differently. Wendell and I chose our team based on how we perceived the skills of the players. In the game Lawrence was in it was a random draft. One player was just as good as the other in that draft. It was like Lawrence was actually on one of those discs we were spinning. But instead of hits or outs that disc was divided into 365 numbers and each little section had a number between and including 1 through 365. After each spin the resulting number was slotted into the sequence it was picked. Maybe the top one hundred numbers were sure to go. One of the numbers on that disc was Lawrence and the longer he could go without his number called the better for him. The object of the game he was playing was to have his number slotted near the end of the drawing.

It may seem kind of crazy but our baseball game kept going. We drafted our players and spun our spinner like nothing was happening around us. Lawrence tried to draw us into his game with updates on his status. He did draw our interest and answered our questions patiently. Question after question as only 11 or 12 year old kids could ask. It was amazing that he was able to talk to us at all sitting there with his future in the balance. Meanwhile our minds drifted back to our game and spinning the spinners in the hopes of scoring runs and making statistics!

I remember watching the news in those war days. Each day Walter Cronkite would read the statistics on the war. Kind of like a baseball games post game show. This was like the war games end of the day rap up. Total Americans killed today and a number. Total Vietnamese killed and another number. Sometimes we would see some play by play as a journalist took us behind the lines. We could see our troops over there fighting for their lives in the jungles. We would see explosions all around them as they fought on. Most of the time however it was just the cold hard statistics that Cronkite would read.

What would Lawrence’s future hold?

As I looked back on that day I started thinking that maybe we could have been more supportive to Lawrence. Maybe we should have abandoned our game and put our whole attention on his radio and him. I started thinking about the lesson I learned from this place in time and what I might be able to pass on. The theme kept coming into my mind that so many of us are busy playing games while our neighbors are hurting. Although this is a very true statement this conclusion just didn’t seem to fit our situation in this case. What could an 11 and 12 year old do in this uncomfortable setting to help their older brother and cousin? Maybe the best thing we could do is just what we did. We continued to be kids and played our game. What purpose would be served by stopping our game other than causing even more discomfort for Lawrence? After all maybe the fact that we were playing a game made him dream of a time when he could leisurely play a game without it being life and death. Maybe the most important thing was that we were there. Maybe the lesson out of all of this is even if you can’t do anything being there is important. It wasn’t that we comprehended everything that was happening, but we were there even if it was unplanned. When we started playing the game we didn’t realize his game was going on. When he came in smoking his cigarette with his radio, as he voiced his nervous giggles we realized that there were two games on the agenda. We didn’t drop our game, but we definitely paid attention to his game too.

Not all of the Vietnam stories had happy endings like Al’s. There were 58,138 U.S. Soldiers that died in the Vietnam war. Fortunately Lawrence was not one of them. He won his game that day! I think his number was over 300! I don’t remember who won most of the games Wendell and I played. Our games were fun games with results long forgotten. Our games were kids games where life is fun and problems come later. Two years ago Lawrence died. It was some forty years after that fateful night. Lawrence ended up losing a war to inoperable cancer. I don’t think I cried when I heard the news. It was an expected thing because the cancer had eaten away Lawrence’s skinny body. There was not much of him left when he departed. It was more of a relief knowing that his suffering was over, much like the relief he felt when the draft numbers fell his way. It’s strange that relief can come from both death and avoiding death. When I bought that All-Star Baseball Game I was thinking about my childhood. I was sure it would bring back memories of games past. In fact that is exactly what it did, but in a much different way than I anticipated. Little did I realize that the memory it would take me to would be a transition place between being a boy and a man. A time that would decide if my cousin Lawrence would jump right into manhood and possibly die for his country or if he might be able to remain a boy and play a few games for just a little longer? The other day as I was thinking again about the memory of Lawrence on that day tears filled my eyes. I’m sure it was a belated mourning of Lawrence dying as I thought of the games we played that night. Wendell and I competing for honors in a baseball game while Lawrence was involved in a much different game altogether. We were two kids playing a game of chance for fun and one young man who was on a playing piece in a game of chance with his life and future on the line.

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