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.”
“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