Monthly Archives: May 2016

I Didn’t Know

 

Pat Conroy writes phrases that capture feelings. Regardless of the book’s subject, the introduction is rich with prose. In his “My Losing Season,” he writes about the last year he played point guard for the Citadel. He claims he was born to be a point guard, but not a very good one. The team was not great and the season was not memorable—no trophies were placed in the school glass case.

“As a basketball player, I always felt like a fraud and that same feeling has followed me into the writing life.” My Losing Season, Pat Conroy, Doubleday, 2002.

While on a book tour—signing his book “Beach Music” in a Dayton, Ohio bookstore, one of his team members stepped to the table. He hadn’t seen the man in thirty years, but that meeting was “…one of those life-changing encounters…that rise up periodically….”

“John DeBrosse…had always looked upon my love of reading as a form of mental illness.”

“I had the capacity to hero-worship all the boys who could play basketball better than I could, and my house of worship was large indeed. John DeBrosse was a player who started every game on every team he had ever played on, and could shoot a basketball as well as the good ones. He was as serious as calculus and played basketball with the same devotion that monks often display at lauds or matins.”

DeBrosse invited Conroy to his home to prove to his family that he really knew the writer and to talk about basketball days.

“Listening to him talk made it clear to me that his true love was coaching because his voice changed timbre when he told me about teams he had coached to championship seasons.” As they drove, they talked of DeBrosse’s career.

“Then he looked at me and said, ‘I was a lot better than you, Conroy.’” It was a statement of fact in the world of athletics, not braggadocio. ‘You couldn’t shoot.’

“The truth of his remark stung me, hurtful as a handful of wasps. ‘Other people noted that. I made very few All-American teams those years.’”

“But you got after it,” John said. “You went all out.”

“Thanks.”

“I’ve always told my players and coaches that something used to happen between us every practice, Conroy. Do you remember?”

“Something stirred, then struck a huge chord of memory, and I got that slight shiver that happens when I catch a glimpse of a part of my past that has slipped out of sight.”

“I brought out the best in you. You brought out the best in me. Man, it was something.”

“You beat me lot more than I beat you,” I said, “if memory serves me correctly.”

“Damn right I did,” he said. …”But you gave it all you had, fought all the way. I think about that team we played on. That shitty season. If we’d just had one more hard-nosed S.O.B. on the team and we needed about three or four more really tough guys.”

“Who was the hard-nosed guy?” I asked.

John DeBrosse looked at me strangely, then said, ‘It was you, Conroy. Who the hell else could it have been?”

“I spent several pleasurable moments, basking in the sunshine of those sweet words and sitting in silence, the first minute in my life I was aware that John DeBrosse thought I was tough-nosed. He couldn’t have made me happier…

“Thanks, Johnny. I didn’t know I was hard-nosed.”

I have hung around those paragraphs and thought about the smell of gyms, locker rooms and the feel of basketballs and the sound of a hard ball slamming into the pocket of a Wilson glove. It always stuns me when a mega-star in any field expresses appreciation for something that once was said that influenced them. “I didn’t know I was hard-nosed.”

On this Memorial Day weekend, what would brighten someone’s self-perception if you were to tell them? Make a memory, shift a memory, correct a memory.

I celebrate Memorial Day with its traditional symbols. I also will remember—memorialize—the words and gestures that make me feel better about myself. I shall repent and be remorseful for the gestures and words that I spoke that diminished someone.

©2016 D. Dean Benton—Writer & Wonderer—Benton Books & Blogs

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A Squirrel Tail

 

Maybe you can tell me. What kind of jail time will I get for killing a squirrel? If I kill three squirrels, will the sentences run concurrently?

In studies of the supernatural, squirrels are symbolic of demons. I believe that! Whoever the researcher was, he/she was speaking from experience.

My wife can push me toward the edge by reminding me that the bird feeders are empty. Kill the squirrels! We like birds, but we want to think that after years of maturing us, God will someday trust us with pretty ones. If you visit us, Carole will tell you a sad story that all she really wants in life is a pair of yellow finches. My expectations are a little larger. I would enjoy an oriole, a blue bird and a stray mockingbird. No! We’ve got half of the world’s sparrows, some grackles, a homeless, pregnant robin and squirrels. I’m surprised we don’t have marauding sea gulls—and you know how messy they are. We also have stray cats who come in from the next block to use our lawn as their kitty litter pan. A mangy yellow cat crept across our lawn and I got excited—the cat is going to snatch a squirrel. This has become a blood lust sport! Didn’t happen. The cat nodded good morning to the squirrel and snarled at a beautiful Cardinal.

It is not enough that the lead squirrel empties the bird feeder. Yesterday he ate the top off the bird feeder. This is not plastic like milk comes in. The bird feeder is quarter inch, heavy gauge plastic. Your pit bull would have to go to the vet from eating it, but the squirrel didn’t even burp.

My wife armed herself to scare the squirrel away from our bird feeder. She put pennies in a Dr. Pepper can and shakes it at the rodent and yells at it. Wish she’d stop that! Scares me and the squirrel looks at her and says, “Whatever!”

Early in the spring, I was sitting on our lawn park bench reading and enjoying the sun. I’m aware that I have company. A squirrel is calmly walking toward me and is ready to jump up on the bench and join me. It was not threatening or at all threatened by me. After considering that it may have rabies, I look for but see no frothing. It really acts like he wants to be my friend—just hang together on the bench. I started to talk to it—I don’t know its gender—and the creature just sits there and listens. Doesn’t act like he is plotting an attack or is scared by my questions. But neither does the vermin have any answers.

I don’t know if God likes squirrels or not. Jesus says He has a thing for sparrows. It doesn’t look like He is going to go halves on sparrow food. Maybe God is protecting those yellow finches and sends them to the three-story houses on 5th St. If you have insight on this squirrel—yellow finch thing, please communicate with my wife. She’s the pretty lady waving the Dr. Pepper can. I think she’s starting a new religion.

©2016 D. Dean Benton

Finishing two new novels: Porches and Pillars and When Whales Sing. Visit our ebook site: http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/DDeanBenton

 

A Rising Tide

 

For several weeks, I have been reading novels and non-fiction about some of my favorite places. They are fantasy places where I go in my imagination and places we visited when on tour. I have never lived in any of those places. I’ve never had to deal with limitations or issues that local folks do. I like the idea of those places where I can erase any historical ugliness or injustice.

Over the same time frame, my wife has been fascinated with the extreme opposite corner of the continent: Alaska. Have you watched “The Bush People?” It is a survival show. The current episode features the family building a raft to transport a truck across a body of water. The show is filled with commercials and “cliff hangers.” Getting their huge raft onto the water is solved by moving it closer to the water’s edge and then waiting for the tide to come in and launch the homemade barge.

I found the commonality: the tides. Just off the coast of South Carolina—where I visited yesterday in my reading—a boat is caught in the fog and is inadvertently driven onto a sandbar. The only solution is to wait for the tide to come in and lift the skiff off the bar.

John Kennedy was referring to economics when he said, “A rising tide raises all boats.” One of Carole’s cousins is in town to talk to a nationally-based group about illiteracy. Learning how to read is one of the rising tides that lifts people off the sandbar.

What is going to happen to and through you this week that will have the effect of a rising tide? A rising tide to lift your soul off the muddy reef and cleanse the beach?

A couple of phrases from Beach Music by Pat Conroy make me aware of how many of us are hung up on the sandbars:

“She had so mastered the strategies of camouflage that her own history had seemed a series of well-placed mirrors that kept her hidden from herself.”

      “I found myself fully in love with my own story all over again.”

(Beach Music, Pat Conroy,1995, 2009 Deal Press.)

Carole and I were talking about an acquaintance who is hung up on a sandbar that may as well be a prison. Life has had some terrible episodes and I don’t want to minimize how difficult. How does that person love “my own story all over again?”

The protagonist of Conroy’s story is describing his relationship to a former girlfriend:

      “Her mother didn’t like you at all,” Leah said.

       “She thought Ledare could do a lot better,” I said. “She had a way of looking at me     when I picked up Ledare (for a date) as though I were a urine sample.”

My acquaintance has enough convincing evidence to believe even God pictures them that way. How is that fixed? Redemption. I don’t mean that person needs to get saved. They are saved—but it doesn’t seem to be enough. Read the New Testament with no filters and it proclaims that Jesus can reach into our guts, memories and bent structure and heal us—redeem what He first had in mind before we ran aground.

Rip off the camouflage and replace it with an accurate holy, Kingdom view of self. My acquaintance cannot easily fall in love with his past, but having been healed that child of God can fall in love with the person God is calling into being.

Is there a lifting tide that powerful?

©D. Dean Benton

The Georgia Coast

 

Stuck. I have been writing about a woman for a while and decided to make her a major character in a book and I don’t know what she looks like. For the reader to decide to like or dislike her, the reader must have an image of her. I have written around her description for several days and I am stuck. I went downtown to see if anyone on the street or at the post office looked like her. Bruce at the post office doesn’t even come close. So I’ve given up for a little while.

While at the post office, I picked up a book about a teacher who was turned down by the Peace Corp and therefore applied for a job teaching at an Island named Yamacraw. Yamacraw is a fictionalized name for a real island between Savannah and Hilton Head. Jimmy Buffet sang a song about the history of the island.

The word is familiar to me because Yamacraw is in the poem “Go Down Death” by James Weldon Johnson. The pigment of the poem colors the word.

The story is not fiction and that disturbed me. The year is 1972. The teacher attempts to connect with and to teach eighteen 11-13 year-old children who are direct descendants to slaves. There is no bridge to the Island and the students have had no real contact with the world beyond their island. The students do not know what country they live in, They do not know what ocean laps on the shores of their home island. When pushed, they believe that John Kennedy was our first president and they had never heard of George Washington. They do know that the Civil War was fought between the Germans and the Japanese.

My stomach is churning because now I can’t picture a woman who I should be able to tell you the color of her eyes. But the heavy sadness is about people who have been neglected—for whatever reason—and may as well be living on another planet. Or may be as far as they know.

I can’t tell you the fictional lady’s eye color, but I do know they are wide open with anticipation and aggressively observant.

I’m feeling great gratitude that I can read and ask questions. Anticipation and alert observation are great qualities and privileges to nurture.

Stephen Mansfield Tweeted a picture of himself walking the beach of Tybee Island and his podcast today was recorded on Tybee Island, Georgia which is just down the coast from Yamacraw. We sang in a church on Tybee Island. It is a galaxy away from Yamacraw.

The other evening, something came on the news that stopped our world. It froze us. Silenced us. Carole said, “We are fortunate to have been born where we were. Nothing of our own doing.”

I am thankful to have been born where I have options.

On this Mother’s Day weekend, I am reminded that I would have been born in Georgia or someplace in the Southeast except I wanted to be close to my mother at the time.

©2016 D. Dean Benton

Writer &Wonderer