Friday, October 27, 2017

Hey, there, Warrior Team...

I wrote the article in March of 1990, but the memories are from March of 1968. Maybe I should have kept this until March of 2018, when it will be 50 years since our school went to the dance, but I found it today and basketball season's coming on fast, so here it is. Tweaked a little, but not much. Do you remember?
March 8, 1968 Peru Tribune

We were just a little bitty school out in the sticks. We'd never won the championship in anything but livestock judging. If we went over 50-50 in basketball, it was an outstanding season. If we made it though the sectional without any snowstorms or other similar tragedies, it was going to be a good spring.

But then it was 1968, and I was a senior in high school. There were 92 of us, and the only thing some of us wanted remember about school was getting out of it in May and never, never having to go back.

Until we won the Logansport sectional.

It was, in the vernacular of a subsequent generation, awesome.

By the time we--we being North Miami--had advanced to the final game of the sectional, every cheering section in Logansport's famous Berry Bowl was rooting for us. Everybody except the Berries themselves, that is, and you couldn't really blame them. After all, we were beating them.

The motorcade going home from Logansport was nearly endless, and we were escorted part of the way by police and fire vehicles. Once back on our own turf, we filled the gym well past capacity and had an impromptu pep session in the middle of the night. It was our first sectional and local media were touting us as the Cinderella ball team.

The week at school passed in a blur of pep sessions and days of wearing strange clothing and classes spent talking about basketball in the hushed-by-hoarseness voices that abound after an exciting ball game.

Come Friday, we were still whispering, but we all piled into the fan buses or attached ourselves to the motorcade and went to the regional. Once there, the whispers gave way to screams and--wonder of holy wonders--LITTLE NORTH MIAMI WON THE WHOLE THING!

The line of cars going back to school was even longer this time. We were accompanied by even more flashing red lights. The gym bulged precariously at the seams. The little school in the boonies had become "the mouse that roared."

We even had a slogan, given to us by the coach of a neighboring school. "We're not satisfied!" became the Warrior battle cry. It reached the point that some of the players grimaced whenever they heard those three words, and they heard them at every turn. Signs cropped up in cornfields that proclaimed the area to be "Warrior Country." Cinderella's night went on.

The following Saturday, still whispering, we loaded up and went to Lafayette to the semi-state. We won the first game. We had advanced from the Sweet Sixteen to being one of only eight teams left. The mouse roared even louder.

But that night, the Warriors met the team who would become 1968's state champions, and the ball was over. The proverbial clock struck midnight, and we went home in defeat. We lost, but we were satisfied.

And now it's 1990. I have screamed my way through my own son's high school basketball career and am now in the process of screaming my way though his brother's football career. 1968 is long ago and far away.

Or is it? Sometimes when I'm in the gym--my kids go to the same school I did--I can close my eyes and remember how it felt in there on those victorious nights.

And sometimes when things get difficult and success seems to be an unknown quality destined to escape me forever, I remember what was accomplished by the little team that could.

North Miami basketball has never reached the semi-state again, but the memory of that long-ago journey lingers on with many of us.

We were, for a brief, shining time, the Cinderella school. And the dance we attended was grand. Just grand.

2017: Thanks to Dale Jones, Mike Coffing, Randy Smith, Mike Walters, Dave Collins, Frank Miller, Roger Grismore, Mike Devine, Mike Skinner, Gary Baker, Bob Pontius, Dick Moyer, and Coach Jerry Lewis (as well as anyone I may have missed) for giving so many of us such a great thing to keep in the memory banks.

Friday, October 20, 2017

"I'm younger than that now..."

This is from August 17, 2015. I was still so pumped when I wrote it--I got pumped again when I found it to reprint it in Window Over the Sink. I am so glad and so grateful to have come of age when I did, with the songs that were my sound track to adulthood. There are some things that no amount of revisionist history can lessen and the music of the 60s is one of them.

“I say in speeches that a plausible mission of artists is to make people appreciate being alive at least a little bit. I am then asked if I know of any artists who pulled that off. I reply, 'The Beatles did'.” ― Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

I was 13 when the Beatles came to America and to the Ed Sullivan Show to nestle into the hearts of so many of us. I bought all their records and tried to grow my frizzy brown hair out long, straight, and sleek. I sat through A Hard Day’s Night at least 10 times, but I never got to go to a concert. I was, in the vernacular of the day, a Beatlemaniac.
          That left me sometime after the White Album and prior to the birth of my first child, but I’m still unable to stand still or be quiet when an early Beatles’ song comes on the radio.
          Well, shake it up, baby now—twist and shout...c’mon, c’mon...
          Oh, excuse me.
          Last night, we went to see 1964 The Tribute perform. We were in
nosebleed seats and, in truth, didn’t expect all that much because, of course, we were there for the whole, real thing, so what could possibly...
          Oh, yeah, I’ll tell you something...I think you’ll understand...
          And then I did. Understand, I mean.
          Most of us in the huge crowd were baby boomers. We remembered JFK, Martin Luther King, and RFK and their lives and deaths. We remembered “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” and Peace not War...
          All we are saying is give peace a chance...
          Only they didn’t, of course, give peace a chance. We remember Vietnam, too.
          A lot of us wore flowy things in the 60s. Long floaty skirts with sandals and shawl-type things over tank tops. No bras. Last night, a lot of us still wore flowy things. Only now we do it because we’re shaped differently and flowy works well with the changes. Not only do we wear bras, many of us won’t leave the house without underwires.
          Pride can hurt you too...apologize to her...
          Oh, God, I love this music!
          Duane and I were alone at the concert, but we weren’t. Not really. All around us, everyone knew the words. When to clap. When to stand. When to laugh out loud and say...
          I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.
          Oops, those are Dylan lyrics. But they fit.
          I would have loved a Beatles concert in the 60s, but no more than I loved the Tribute concert last night. Because the mechanisms you use for thinking and feeling and listening are honed and tightened by age and the intensity of those particular processes is excruciatingly wonderful to experience. I know I talk about age too much here—that’s because I know so much about it. And because it’s such a lovely thing.
          I’m always surprised when people don’t believe in happily ever afters, when they don’t believe love ever lasts, when they don’t know what an enormous gift life is. Maybe it is because they don’t write romance or Yes I Can women’s fiction—or maybe it’s because they don’t read it.
          I hope you do one or the other or both, and that as life goes on you focus on how glorious it all is. Now to the question—I know, there’s always a question, but what musical group affects you the way the Beatles still do me? Have you seen them in concert?
          Have a great week!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Christine, James Drury, and Me

I wrote this in October of 2014. I had  a new book out--always a good thing--but was feeling melancholy, too. I've felt that way a lot this past year, too. Makes me more grateful than ever for sisters--by birth, by marriage, and of the heart. They are precious all.

Her name was Christine Ann and she died of diphtheria when she was three, nine years before I was born. In the few pictures of her that remain, she has straight white blonde hair and sturdy legs in long cotton stockings. “I always thought she would have been big when she grew up,” my mother said. My father never talked about her. My other sister, Nancy, who was two years older than Christine, still grieves.

I was the youngest in my family. There were three brothers between my sisters and me. I was a girly girl on a farm, and I was lonely. So I thought a lot about Christine. I was convinced she would have liked me. She would have wanted to play house with me and talk about Little Women and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. She’d have been a willing participant in dress-up, swinging high enough to touch that branch up there, and playing with kittens in the hay mow in the barn.

I used to pretend, when I was unhappy, that she had not died. She was not only my sister, but my imaginary friend.

For years after her death, Mom would write notes to her in her baby book. “You would be nine today…what a big girl…we miss you so much.” I used to cry over the baby book, for the sister I never knew, for Nancy who’d lost the sister she really loved, for Mom and Dad, who surely would have liked me better if they hadn’t lost her. I cried for myself, too, because I never felt I measured up to the invisible daughter-sister bar.

Years after the last time I read my mother’s notes to Christine in her baby book, someone wrote an article in RWR about wanting the heroine in books she read to be her sister. This was years before I was published, before I’d even finished the first dreadful manuscript. I don’t remember the article well enough to quote it, nor do I know who wrote it, but I knew then what kind of women would populate my stories.

They would be sisters. Even if they were only children, they would have best friends they loved like sisters. They would be flawed, often pretty but probably not beautiful. Some would be heavy, some skinny. None of them would have particularly good hair unless they had broad hips to offset it. They wouldn’t dress especially well, excel at very many things, or cry prettily. They would be neither brave nor stupid. When they sang, it would be out of tune, but they would sing anyway.

I am meandering in this post, for which I apologize, but Christine’s birthday would have been October 11 and she is on my mind a lot. I’ve only lately realized how much her brief life and too-early death had to do with me being a romance writer.

Because her story was the first one I ever made up.

She not only swung with me and read with me and played with me in the quiet of the barn, but in my imagination, I saw her as an adult whose bright blue eyes never faded, whose blonde hair never darkened. The twelve years between us would have been like nothing if she’d lived. She’d have married a man who looked like James Drury. He would have liked it if Christine’s little sister spent vacations and long weekends with them. They lived, oh, yes, happily ever after.

I’ve aged, but in my mind she has not. The tenderness, angst, and sweetness of those imaginings are as clear to me today as they were when I was a little girl missing the sister I’d never known. I still miss her, but I think I was wrong. I think I knew her after all. Happy birthday, Christine.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Confessions of a square peg

I wrote this in 2004, seven years before I retired from the proverbial day job. Although I loved the workplace where I spent 30 years, I was happy to leave it. Most of the "good work" in my classification was gone, replaced by bigger machines and bigger offices, so all I really missed was the people I worked with. I was startled when I read back over this that I'd used the word "broad" more than once, because I hate the term as much now as I did then. It was in this workplace that I learned a lot about sexism--including the fact that I am sometimes guilty of it myself--and a few other of the isms that continual to do structural damage to society. 

I wore my favorite green slacks (size ten) and the velour shirt that matched them. I was thirty; age-wise I fell to the younger side of the middle of the work force at my new job. One of five women in an office of fifty employees, I was so nervous on that first day I must have gone to pee every half hour. Which was, several men commented dryly, no more than they expected from a broad. They supposed I would be the next one to get pregnant and stand around and ask for help and not be able to do my job.

What was I doing here? I certainly didn't fit.

Two of the women I worked with were pregnant. They didn't stand around, and they always did their jobs. We all did, and the only ones we asked for help were each other, because we didn't like being called broads and we didn't like being bitched about.

I learned a lot in that first few months. That some men gossiped and lied and that cute young women in tight pants (smaller than a size ten) didn't have to work as hard as others. That no one cared if my youngest had spots and a temperature of a hundred and climbing; I was supposed to be at work. On time.

But I also learned that working with men isn't really much different from working with women. I had female bosses who were as susceptible to a fresh-out-of-college man with washboard abs and a beguiling wink as their male counterparts were to the aforementioned cute, young, and tightly wrapped. I learned that behavior explained as PMS in women is just a bad mood in men.

I worked very, very hard because that was the way I was brought up and because, truth be told, more was expected from the five women. We had to prove that we could do historically male jobs as well as the men. So we did. After while, no one used the term "broad" very much and though the bitching didn't lessen, it did become pretty much gender-blind, which was all most of us cared about.

Now I'm fifty-something. I wear blue jeans to work most days, the ones with elastic insets in the sides of the waist because now I buy a size fourteen. The office still has about fifty people, but the man-woman ratio is closer to fifty-fifty these days. Of the women in that equation, I am the oldest. Young, cute, and well-built still pays off - time hasn't changed human nature that much. Working hard, once a source of personal pride, has become something rather pointless, even foolish. Response to the word "loyalty" is generally a blank look. Be on time? Why?

"I hate this place," I mutter on a semi-daily basis. My friends and I talk about retirement, counting off the days toward it like children waiting for Christmas. We talk about traveling at our convenience rather than our employers', being Wal-Mart greeters, sleeping till we feel like getting up. It will be so much fun, we say, even though we'll have to be more careful with money and pray harder for good health since insurance costs will be heart-stopping. We can't wait!

Oh, but there's the rub, because I can wait; I'm not ready. I want to give my 401k a chance to recuperate a little from its recent dip into the toilet. I'd also like to shore up my mad money account, buy some new appliances, and maybe trade cars. I have a new grandchild due to arrive in Vermont in March. I live in the Midwest, and I want to see this sixth grandbaby more than the once a year my retirement income will allow.

I've always planned on retiring at sixty, or fifty-five at the earliest, but I don't feel welcome in the workplace anymore. I work too hard, and have little patience with office politics and tales of who's bonking whom. I resent pregnancy being treated as an illness calling for hours of break-room rest instead of a planned condition that one works through with care. I'm sick to death of the cry of "it's not my job" no matter what the job is and of the terse "because I can" when a supervisor is asked the reason for an order that seems out of line.

What am I doing here? I certainly don't fit.

But I've learned more things as the years have gone by.

My work ethic is mine, and it's not something I can visit on someone else just because I don't like theirs. Although I will still give loyalty because I don't know how to do anything else, I am now smart enough not to expect it in return. I've learned, and repeat to myself almost every day, that my employers don't have to value me; they have only to pay me. I finally accept that being in the minority on an issue doesn't make me right or wrong; it makes me out-voted. Being a sort-of-liberal residing in Indiana, I should have known that anyway, but I'm still voting for underdogs every time. I don't fit in my ultraconservative geographical area any better than I do in my thirties-oriented workplace.

But my home is still my home, and my place of work is still where my paycheck comes from. Just as I love my neighborhood even if I am a square peg in its round hole, so do I like the office where I've spent twenty-some years of my working life. And it really doesn't matter if I fit.