Monthly Archives: July 2016

Parents’ Most Important Gift

I had determined not to read any more of Pat Conroy’s books, but the book “The Death of Santini” seduced me. It is a memoir of how Conroy’s other books were made into Hollywood movies. I had heard many of the stories which are fictionalized and slightly disguised in his other books. My primary purpose in reading has been to study one of America’s great Southern writers.

Reading the stories of Pat Conroy’s father’s brutality is not easy. I realized as I read one of the stories that I was trembling. My hands were relatively steady, but my insides felt like I had consumed ten times my limit of Starbuck’s coffee. Every nerve within me was on the move.

My guiding question was where Conroy learned to tell stories. His father was from Chicago, went to college at St. Ambrose in Davenport, Iowa and was a Marine fighter pilot in Korea and Vietnam. His mother grew up in the mountains of Alabama during the depression. Her mother left her four children in the depth of those years, leaving them alone while she moved to Atlanta and through eight marriages.

Chapter eight in The Death of Santini is about that mother—the author’s maternal grandmother—her influence upon him and her re-entry into the family. She alone could have given the writer enough stories to keep him busy. The chapters about her are worth standing in the library and reading.

“Every family produces one unconventional, breakout member whose sheer willfulness and obstinacy will change the course of that family’s history. When my grandmother Margaret Nolen Peek deserted her four children and husband in the middle of the Depression and hitchhiked a ride on a mule wagon heading for Atlanta, when she got a job in the notions department at Rich’s Department store, then married a Greek salesman of adding machine who also ran the numbers racket in the city, she transformed everything about how her children looked at themselves in the world.” (Pat Conroy, Death of Santini, Doubleday-Random House, 2013. Page 117)

The story of that grandmother takes on color when she reveals she married first when she was eleven. She did not “bail” on her kids. She saw herself as leaving them to go into a new land to find a life that would release her children from poverty, starvation and dead-end lives. She did that.

“My meek and God-fearing grandfather Jasper Peek had hitched his fate to the wings of a firebird, and Stanny (Grandmother Stanton) left her talon tracks everywhere she took flight.” (page 128)

I conclude my limitations as a writer rest on my lack of relationships with eccentrics and weird people. Most of my relatives are common sense types. They have successfully hidden all of their crazy habits or mountain adventures. I would like to know more about the histories of my grandfathers and their families of origin. There are stories there that have been erased from the family Bibles.

When Pat Conroy was twenty-five and married for the first time, he and his wife invited his parents and young siblings to visit them just before his father left for another tour in Vietnam. It was during one of the nights that he heard his drunken father slapping his mother. Pat followed the crying and defended his mother with flying fists. He threw his father out of his house and then picked him off the lawn, placed him in the car and threatened his death if the Marine ever again entered his home or touched his mother or siblings.

The writer’s mother ended the marriage soon after. Oddly, Pat and his father came to an rapprochement and the father began a rehabilitation process that borders on things thought impossible. They have a conversation that is engraved on my mind:

“Dad, do you understand your part in Mom’s kicking you out?”

The “Great Santini” responds with the most outrageous explanation imaginable. Pat Conroy’s response to his father is astonishing. There are a couple of lines that grip me:

“You were a hideous father and husband. You ran a reign of terror in every house we lived in. Your own children hate your guts. You don’t know a single thing about any of us and you never seemed to care.” (page 60)

We’ve been reading and studying about building a prayer strategy for our families. There is another line from another book that I engraved in my brain 30-40 years ago: “It is not that children and their parents don’t like each other; it is that they don’t know each other.” To me, the words to the vicious Marine are the worst indictment imaginable.

If we are to influence our pack’s young pups or intelligently, effectively pray for them as they mature, we have to know them. Until we do, Proverbs 22:6—“Train up a child in the way he should go…” is not likely—probably impossible.

  1. What is their passion? What do they love? Hate? Would sacrifice for?
  2. How do they manage life?
  3. How do they see themselves?
  4. Where are they uniquely vulnerable? What bruises them?
  5. What is their love language? How do they say “Love you,” “I’m sorry,” “I need some help.”

It is possible for good people not to “get” each other. But “…you never seemed to care,” demands repair. That indictment makes my insides shake.

©2016 D. Dean Benton                 Writer, Wonderer

Channels deep enough to…

Andy Andrews lives near Fairhope, Alabama which is on the Gulf off toward Mobile. He was talking in the current podcast about a bookstore called Page & Palet in Fairhope. He described it as one of the 5 or 6 most important bookstores in the country. He says: spend 2-3 hours in that store and you will likely run into one or more major author. Then Andy said that lots of authors are moving to the Fairhope area.

If you want to know where photographers go to breathe pure photography air, that would be in the Santa Fe, New Mexico area. Just as painters and writers gathered in Paris in decades past.

It is easy to figure out why so many country and gospel musicians migrate to Nashville and why writers and creatives have found Franklin, Tennessee a good place for home. That is partly because Nashville is where records are made, music is written and business is done. That is where Tootsie’s is and where agents hang out looking for the next big star. But Taos and Santa Fe is about creativity.

Our son has wanted to go to New Mexico to breathe that 21st Century tin-type oxygen. It is like a working pilgrimage to the spout where the creativity blessing comes out.

One of our friends believes our town of declining 35,000 souls was founded and set aside by either God or something to be Hollywood East—the place where movies are made and creatives gather. He has a Native American soul—I think. He thinks that until the city becomes a certain population, that creative “magic” is locked up, held in check.

Karl Rove said this morning it would be fun to watch a Trump—New Gingrich ticket since Gingrich has an idea a minute. That is not a new description of Newt. Where did he learn that or where did he go/where does he go to “breathe the creative air?”

I am tempted to take a quick drive to Fairhope, Alabama to visit my nephew’s family (better check if they are in before I fuel up) and go breath the air at Page & Palet. I know exactly what the air is like and I know it is magic. But even stronger is a desire to establish an enclave close by where people will visit to interact, sit together with great coffee and exchange wonderful, crazy and wise ideas. A place where I will benefit from whatever is in the water and air that stimulates and enriches.

I’m reading Lincoln’s Battle with God by Stephen Mansfield. (2012). Lincoln found New Salem, Illinois. Some historians say New Salem was his alma mater. He came of that experience with the ability to process his dreams and hone his thinking. One of the chamber of commerce statements is that New Salem was settled on the Sangamon River with channels deep enough to….

I’m wondering what it would take to build that kind of enclave on the banks of the Mississippi.

©2016 D. Dean Benton—Writer & Wonderer—

Independence Day


Wilt Chamberlain averaged over 50 points a game during one NBA season. He scored 100 points in one game. He was over 7 feet tall and ran gracefully as if trained by dancers. But he could not shoot free throws. He averaged about 40% or less.

Rick Barry was his contemporary. One of the game’s historic finest players. He was classy and smart. But he was different. He shot free throws underhanded. Here’s this guy shooting jump shots from all over the court, but at the free throw line he shot underhanded. In the WBA, they are called “Granny shots.” He almost never missed.

Barry makes the point that shooting free throws is a more natural way as well as generally more accurate. In the early days, shots from 3-point range would usually be shot two-handed underhand. LaBron James missed over 100 free throws this season. Barry regularly missed 8-10 free throws all season. Shaq comes to mind as a self-admitted terrible free throw shooter.

Chamberlain could be taken out of the scoring flow by putting him on the free-throw line. Forty-percent or less. He decided to try underhanded free throws. Immediately his percent leaped to 60% and climbing. Chamberlain for an unaccepted reason reverted to his old style of free-throw shooting and old numbers. Chamberlain sacrificed points for his team rather than look “sissy” or different. Shaq said he would rather shoot -0- than shoot underhanded.

Rick Barry was shooting 70% when he discovered he could shoot near 100% by shooting underhanded. His dad suggested it and Barry told him he didn’t want people making fun of him. “How can they make fun of you when you are making points?” He was right.

Barry is said to have been disliked by half of the league players and hated by the rest. He was deemed arrogant. He demanded that everyone do their best, play up to their potential and work to expand their potential. Rick Barry didn’t care one bit what people said, or thought about him. His personal demands on himself was what he listened to. Nothing else mattered.

The under-hand, two-hand shot looks old-fashioned and doesn’t make it to the newsreels in a run and gun, slam-dunk game. That style is so embarrassing (apparently) that only two NBA players during the Rick Barry era asked him how they could make it work. Today only two college players shoot that style. One is from an African nation and the other is Barry’s son.

The cost is the loss of cool.

One of the greatest experiences is to slam dunk after becoming airborne at the free throw line. I’m told. The other great feeling is to lace up your tennies and hit a jump shot from the corner. I’m probably past my prime on the court, but if I could help the team and put points on the board by shooting free throws with both hands, underhanded, I’d risk the snickers and ridicule. I think.

Personal independence is not something I want from my family. Interdependence is an admired trait for marriage and tribes. But independence from what others say is admirable.  It is not allowing someone or culture to dominate your action when you pursue your calling, gifts, goals, potential.

All of this is dependent on making your free throw shots.

This information comes from a Malcom Gladwell podcast which includes slices of Gladwell’s interview with Barry. I think Barry would be a marvel to watch play, but maybe difficult to live with. It has sent me thinking about what “underhanded shooting” changes I could make that would make me more effective in my calling, goals, gifts and expand my potential. What more natural, but not necessarily more stylish habit would add more points for my tribe.

Happy Independence Day.

©2016 D. Dean Benton                                                                                                                                    writer & wonderer                                                                                      —Benton Books & Blogs.