Tag Archives: birthdays

Papa and the Braves

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Papa Wham’s Atlanta Braves cap hangs right where he left it, 15 18 baseball seasons ago.

Today would have been my beloved Papa Wham’s 96th birthday, so I’m re-running this post from a few years ago in his honor.

I can’t believe, no matter how hard I try, that my papa has been gone for 18 years. Looking back to Papa’s passing in 1995, I realize he was the first extremely important person I lost.  It just simply does not seem possible.  I miss him these days more than ever because I sure could use his support and advice on a lot of things right about now.

I take my love of baseball in general and the Atlanta Braves in particular from my Papa Wham. In 1978, Granny surprised Papa with a special present when she signed their house up to be the first “Cablevision Equipped” residence on Weathers Circle. Now Papa could watch the Braves on the new Turner Broadcasting Channel out of Atlanta right from the comfort of his favorite couch instead of having to go sit in the car and listen to the games on the car radio.

From that first season until I was old enough to stay by myself several years later, Papa and I didn’t miss a game through the week and I’d often make Mama take me to Granny and Papa’s on Saturday or Sunday or both so he and I could watch the weekend games together.

If you call yourself a Braves fan, I have one question for you? Who are Chris Chambliss, Glenn Hubbard, Rafael Ramirez, Bob Horner, and Bruce Benedict? If you don’t know those names, you are not a Braves fan, you are a BANDWAGON jumper who attached yourself to Papa’s beloved team AFTER their meteoric rise from worst to first and the subsequent instant classic that was the 1991 World Series. Those names are the starting infielders from the 1981 Braves team that finished a miserable 15 games back of the NL WEST leaders and eventual World Series Champion Los Angeles Dodgers. Papa and I watched them all. I lay on the floor next to his couch and listened as Papa told Bobby Cox how to manage a game through the television.

Papa and I used to kid each other that we would pay any price for tickets if Atlanta ever went to the World Series. For all the years we watched WTBS, the Braves making the post-season, much less the Fall Classic, seemed about as likely as country ham and cheese grits as the breakfast special of a kosher diner. Still, we watched faithfully. Dale Murphy was a bright spot and when he won the MVP in 1982, we two were deliriously happy. I got my license a couple of years later and mostly stayed by myself, but come summer, at least twice a week and one weekend day I’d pull in to the driveway and run in just in time to watch some new hotshot throw the first pitch of the game.

I went off to Clemson in the fall of 1990. The Braves were on their way to a fantastic finish a mere 26 games out of first. Papa and I groaned about that season all winter. Then came 1991. All summer, I’d cut grass, watch cars, and ride up to Granny and Papa’s to see the Braves play. It LOOKED like they’d finally put an awesome team together, but 15 years of utter futility had taught us not to be optimistic. Still, they kept winning and when I went back to school, the Braves were making a run at the pennant.

I can remember this next part just as easily as if it were yesterday. I was standing in front of a big screen TV in The Tiger Town Tavern. It was after midnight; the Braves were playing the Pirates. The winner, unbelievably, would go to the WORLD FREAKING SERIES. A new kid named John Smoltz pitched a complete game and shut out the vaunted Pirate batting line up — including a young (and much smaller pre-steroid Barry Bonds). The Braves were going to the Series!

I almost got in a fist fight pushing my way to the front of the pay phone line (this was way before everyone had a cell phone) and called Papa. Granny answered the phone and just as I asked her if Papa was up to see the game winning run, I heard him call from the den, “World Series, son, we’re going to the World Series!” Granny just laughed and took him the phone where we replayed every crucial at bat during the entire game.

Unfortunately, Papa took sick later that week. I’d scraped up enough to get us tickets to at least one game, but he was under the weather and Granny said “NO.” So that was that. I ended up watching three of the seven games of the Series against the Twins with him and we were on the phone talking as we watched Gene Larkin break our hearts with the winning hit in that unbelievable game seven.

Papa and I never did get to see the Braves play in any of the World Series of that awesome 15 year run when it seemed the Braves couldn’t be beaten anymore. He was on oxygen by the time little Francisco Cabrera’s pinch hit and Sid Bream’s slide sent us to the 1992 World Series, but I sat with him and together we watched Joe Carter and the Toronto Blue Jays beat us. A baseball team from CANADA. The shame was too great to bear.

Papa was gone by the time the Braves made the series again in 1995. He died of a heart attack in Daddy’s arms right after the All-Star break. His beloved Atlanta baseball cap hung on the top peg of the hat rack in the kitchen right where he’d put it the week before . . . the last time he’d worn it before he became bed-ridden. I wanted to bury it with him, but Aunt Cathy couldn’t stand the idea of parting with it, so we didn’t. I’m glad now. It’s still right where he hung it. It’s never been moved. Cathy will gently dust it off every now and again, but it’s waiting for him.

I sat alone in tears and watched the Braves beat the Indians in game 6 of the 1995 World Series to win the only World Series they would win during their streak. The next day, I cut the box score out of the local paper, had it laminated, wrapped it in a plastic bag and buried it under the gravel in the corner of Papa’s plot. The Braves haven’t won another series since. I guess all the magic of their greatest fan just petered out once he was gone. I miss him terribly and to this day, fifteen eighteen years on, I can’t watch a Braves game without thinking of him.

So to all you fathers and grandfathers out there, take in a game and make some time for each other. I love you, Papa.

And I love y’all!

Keep your feet clean now!

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Happy Birthday, Beren!

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jrr-tolkienJ.R.R. Tolkien would be 121 — “twelvity-one” in hobbit-speak — today were he still with us in body. I say “in body” because any person moderately interested in the fantasy genre knows full well just how omnipresent Mr. Tolkien is in spirit and influence. I am not, however, of the faction who feel Tolkien created the world of high fantasy. Certainly Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne, and Arthur Conan Doyle — to name a few — blazed part of that trail before Bilbo set off on his most unBaggins-like, unhobbitish  journey.

Tolkien, though, picked up their trail and turned it into a superhighway traveled by the “usual suspects” of fairy tales like shape-shifters, dragons, and elves — though Tolkien’s elves wouldn’t have been recognizable to the Grimm brothers, but also by new wayfarers like orcs, wargs, and — of course — hobbits. I can’t say much that isn’t already written in the multitude of volumes in libraries today extolling Tolkien’s works and cutting into the minutiae of Middle Earth. I have nothing in my poor hack writing to add to them. What they cannot do, however, is tell what Tolkien, hobbits, and Middle Earth meant and still mean to me.

I read The Hobbit for the first time thirty years ago when I was a fat, awkward kid in sixth grade. The library at Gray Court – Owings School was a welcome refuge for me since I was nonathletic, unaesthetic, and borderline neurotic. One October afternoon, I had just finished off the last book in the World War II section of non-fiction when Ms. Goodhue, the finest school librarian to ever hold the title, sat me down and asked if I’d ever read any fantasy. I could honestly reply in the negative because I wasn’t really sure what fantasy even was. Without fanfare, she went to the paperback section of the “big kids” side of the library (supposedly for 7 – 8 graders) and brought back The Hobbit. She told me to try the first few chapters and let her know if I liked it.

Much to the chagrin of my 3-6 period teachers AND my grandmother, I read the entire book before bedtime that night, stopping only to take a spelling test and eat supper.

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Just in case you’re wondering who in the world is Beren and why is he in the title of a post about Tolkien.

The next day, Ms. Goodhue took my glowing report of how much I loved the book then reached into her book bag and pulled out HER PERSONAL COPY of The Fellowship of the Ring for me to borrow. I read it — and The Two Towers and The Return of the King — by the end of the week. That Saturday, I went to the now-long-defunct Waldenbooks in the now razed-to-the-ground Greenville Mall and bought a matched set of all four books with my entire piggy bank . . . and a little “advance” from Papa Wham. To this day, they sit in an honored place on my office bookshelf. I’ve read and reread those four books AT LEAST sixteen times cover-to-cover in the intervening years. In fact, that set is so precious to me, it nearly caused my beloved Budge and I to “have words.” The movies were due out and she wanted to read the books beforehand so she asked me if she could read MY set. Having seen how she was prone to treat other paperback books she read — crushing their spines and bending pages — I flat-out told her NO to her (and my) utter shock. In my defense, we’d only been married about four years and I did not possess the wisdom and knowledge a husband of more years would have displayed. I immediately recanted and told her she could, but as every woman reading this knows, I couldn’t have PAID her to TOUCH “those books of mine” so I took her to dinner RIGHT THEN and we bought her very own set — which I have not touched to this day.

That incident is just a taste of how The Lord of the Rings has been a thread through my last three decades. I think the major reason is I discovered the books at a time when I was in profound need of seeing someone small and insignificant use wits . . . and a bit of Tookish luck . . . to overcome tons of negative stuff being hurled at him. Even though it had been five years since my parents’ divorce, I was still unable to process why my mother and father were not together. To top things off, Daddy had remarried and so had Mama and now Mama was realizing exactly what the wise aphorism “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face” really meant. In short, I was at a time of overwhelming mental and emotional turmoil. Tolkien gave me a place to go. When I was in Middle Earth, I was aware of the dangers, but they were dangers I could face on equal terms with sword and steel instead of lying helpless before words and people more cruel than any orc. Middle Earth was my refuge at a time when I desperately need one and it has sheltered me from many more woes and foes this world has offered.

So thank you, Professor, for turning the horror of WWI’s trenches into a world where a little boy could escape, if but for a little while and join a heroic quest to a Lonely Mountain because, as writer G.K. Chesterton so eloquently stated, ““Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

Love you all and hope the new year is off to a great start! Keep those feet clean.

Happy Birthday, Uncle Larry!

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Uncle Larry circa 1978

I’d like to invite everyone to celebrate the birthday of a great man with me today. My Uncle Larry turns 60!

Uncle Larry is my favorite uncle and I’d say that even if he were not technically my only uncle. In a life that’s had more change than I would like, Uncle Larry has been a North Star; a guiding constant and a reminder that some things and some people really can be counted on in this life.

Uncle Larry is my Aunt Cathy’s husband. He married in to the family 33 years ago and the fact that he’s been able to put up with Aunt Cathy all these years and still maintain his sanity is a credit to his fortitude. (My aunt reads this blog and I dearly love poking at her! She’s precious to me as well.) When I say he’s been a constant, I have difficulty remembering a time when he wasn’t around. He and Cathy started dating in my earliest hazy memories. What I do remember is Uncle Larry was literally larger than life to me.

Most of the guys in my family run around 5’10” or so. Nick, my little brother, topped that, but before him, Uncle Larry was the only 6’2″ person I knew. To me, he was also Hercules strong. One of his favorite things to do when he came to see Aunt Cathy was to pick me up over his head. I was a chunky little monkey so the fact he could scoop me up and touch me to the ceiling was awesome in itself. I remember going to the SC Upper State Fair every September with Uncle Larry and Aunt Cathy and Uncle Larry’s niece, Gina — who, incidentally, was the first girl I ever walked down the aisle! I loved being with Uncle Larry and if Aunt Cathy didn’t object, he was pretty much willing to take me anywhere.

That IS a Mako Shark Corvette; That is NOT my Aunt Cathy

Uncle Larry has always had a need for speed and for him, speed has always meant one word — Corvette. Before he and Cathy married, he would buy a new Corvette every two years. The first one I remember he had was a limited edition 1968 Mako Shark II with a 427 big block in Midnight Blue. That was a seriously awesome car.

Knowing how much Uncle Larry loves Corvettes, I offer this as proof of how much more he loves my Aunt Cathy. Most of his Corvettes were special orders from Keith Whitaker Chevrolet in Greenville. He had a car on order when he asked Aunt Cathy to marry him. When she accepted, he canceled the order. That was late in 1977 and the car on order was a Silver Anniversary Edition 1978 Limited Edition Corvette. That car is worth just south of $1 million dollars today. For years — even today — if Cathy and Larry had a spat or a little dust-up, my daddy — Cathy’s brother — would remind Larry, “I told you to keep the car.”

Uncle Larry traded THIS . . .

Uncle Larry hasn’t been just a good time charlie all these years either. One of my clearest memories involving him was on Aunt Cathy’s birthday when I was about 5, I think. Mama and Daddy’s troubles had begun escalating and things came to a head at Granny and Papa Wham’s the night we celebrated Cathy’s birthday. We’d eaten and I was playing with my Legos in the living room when Daddy and Papa got into a heated — and loud — argument. When I walked in to see what was going on, Uncle Larry knelt down and asked me if I would like to “drive” his car to the Snack Bar for an ice cream. Does a one-legged duck swim in a circle? Of COURSE! So he sat me on his lap and I drove — with a little help — to the edge of town and we ate ice cream and “drove” back.

. . . for THIS. Right choice? Probably 🙂

When we got back, Daddy was gone and Mama was red-eyed. It was a few years down the road before I realized Uncle Larry — who had been through similar circumstances — was trying to preserve my innocence for just a little longer.

Of course, when it comes to driving for real, I never would have gotten my license if Uncle Larry hadn’t taught me how to drive a car. I didn’t see Daddy enough at the time and Mama was terrified of the thought of me driving, so Uncle Larry shouldered the load. Of course, learning to drive in a ’78 Camaro with a Corvette engine and transmission was a little tricky in places. I didn’t quite understand the concept of “ease on the gas” as much as I should so I left a few black marks around town in my early attempts. I remember being 14 with no sign of a permit, much less a license, driving down I-385 with Uncle Larry. We passed a highway patrol car and I asked Uncle Larry what to do if the cop turned around. He smiled and said, “Put your foot on the floor!”

Uncle Larry couldn’t afford a ticket because he was a truck driver. He went to work on the dock at the Roadway terminal in Greenville when he was 18. He started driving a few years later and now at 60, he’s the #1 tenured driver in South Carolina. When I was little, I used to think every Roadway truck I saw was Uncle Larry. It took Mama and Cathy forever to get me to understand that Roadway had lots of trucks and Uncle Larry drove up north mostly.

Uncle Larry and Aunt Cathy at Zach's Wedding.

The real measure of a man is how he treats others. I don’t know of a single person or animal my Uncle Larry has ever mistreated. He especially loved my Granny Wham. When Papa passed and Granny became unable to live alone, Uncle Larry told Cathy to sell their house and move to Fountain Inn to live with Granny so she wouldn’t have to leave her home of so many memories and years. By that time, he wasn’t going on long hauls anymore so every morning on his way home, he’d stop by the Hardees on the exit to Fountain Inn and get Granny Wham a biscuit for breakfast. Cathy said Granny would stand at the kitchen window waiting for him to arrive and he and Granny would eat breakfast together before Uncle Larry went to bed.

Happy 60th Birthday, Uncle Larry! You wear it well.

When Granny finally had to go to the nursing home because her medical needs were too great to tend at home, Larry would ride down to see her in Laurens just about every weekend. While Granny was in Martha Franks, the Greenville Roadway terminal closed and Larry was transferred to Columbia. Rather than move and upset things, he would drive 100 miles to Columbia from Fountain Inn three or four times a week to pick up his truck and run his route. Every time, either coming or going, he would stop in Laurens to check on Granny Wham. I’ve known a lot of men in my life. I’ve known my share of scoundrels and saintsalike. In all that time, I’ve been privileged to know few men of integrity to match my Uncle Larry and none — famous, infamous, or unknown — who would surpass him.

He is one of my childhood and adult heroes.

Happy Birthday, Uncle Larry! Love you!

And love to all of you as well! Keep your feet clean until next time.

A Pirate Looks at 40 – part 1

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Ol’ Jimmy B got this one right. One week from today, at 6:19 EST,  I will mark my 40th trip around Sol. Turning forty brings its own peculiar madness. The wild idealism of the 20s are a distant memory. Even the guarded optimism of the 30s has begun to fade. All that remains is a long, slow decline into the senescence and decay of middle — then old — age.

Lately, I’ve begun to realize, to quote old Job, “That which I greatly feared has come upon me.” I’ve reached the halfway point of my traditional fourscore of years. If family history is any indication, and most doctors I’ve spoken to say it is, I’ve got between 35 and 38 years left before I go to meet my Maker. If I follow the path laid out by Daddy’s side of the family, I’ll put off this mortal coil as the result of a massive heart attack; whereas Mama’s side points me more towards death from complications from diabetes. I’m not being fatalistic; I’m just facing reality. Papa Wham had five brothers. Four of them, and Papa as well, died of heart attacks of one stripe or another by the age of 78. Daddy had his first mild attack ten years ago. You don’t outrun genetics.

On the other hand, I watched a favorite great-uncle suffer with late term diabetes and he died an inch at a time. First a toe, then a foot, then a leg. All things being the same, I’d just as soon go with the heart attack. So far, I’ve managed to hold on to all the parts I came into the world with, one set of wisdom teeth excepted, and I’d like to leave just the same way. Of course, if I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d certainly have taken better care of myself.

I realize that sounds strange because most people don’t consider forty as old, except for teenagers and they don’t yet realize just how much youth IS wasted on the young. The fact remains that I never made any plans for this stage in my life because I truly had no intention of REACHING this stage of my life. I planned to be dead long before now!

I had a few issues in my tweens and teens and the simple sadness of being completely misinterpreted by my favorite people weighed so heavily on me that I sought out deliberately risky behaviors. I won’t go into gory details but I took chances in cars, on motorcycles, and with bad, dangerous people that I never should have. I became WAY too friendly with my favorite uncles — Jack, Jim, Jose’, Evan, and Pierre. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was self-medicating a condition I didn’t know I had; one that several people around me STILL refuse to believe I wrestle with.

The long and the short of it is I always figured I’d miss a curve or piss off the wrong person one too many times and that’d be the end of me and, to be quite frank, I was just fine with that. You know, it was that whole “Live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse” mentality. I wasn’t really thinking about anyone else’s feelings at the time. I just knew something wasn’t right; I couldn’t reason out what was wrong; most people thought I was making things up; I felt more and more out of sorts, so I just started hoping I’d meet my end in some ball of flaming blaze of glory just like my middle namesake did. After all, that’s how all the Hollywood divas and princes got famous, isn’t it? Of course, the fact that I’m writing this post should be some indication of how well that particular unplanned plan worked itself out.

Ah, sweet old teen angst. Gotta love it. It’s cute and somewhat expected among teenagers. That’s why each generation has had its greasers, hippies, stoners, emos, goths, etc. Most of those cats grow out of it though and go on to become some wildly successful businessmen or professional women.

Apparently, I missed that memo.

So here I am. One week from forty years old and still trying to figure out the angle on life just as hard as I was when I was sixteen. I just don’t have as much company as I used to. I don’t consider myself as much a Peter Pan as maybe his older, less successful sibling, Southern Homes Generic complete with oil floating on top. By my count, I’ve started over four times. Pretty much wiped the slate as clean as possible and started over with new looks, new acquaintances, new speech patterns. Unfortunately, I kept the same old me! Still, all this starting over and angst driven hand wringing and hair pulling has taught me one lesson LDHS55, Greenville Tec, Clemson, and USC all failed to do . . .

I’m getting too old for this crap!

Love y’all and hope everyone has a safe and joyous New Year’s Celebration! Look for more Pirate posts this week as I reflect on what was, what is, and what is to come! Keep those feet clean . . . and deuces, y’all.