It is just a beautiful day, this Memorial Day. I am able to get a little work done in the morning, and then sneak off to the fitness center for a quick workout and a run around Lake Junaluska while Tammy makes a project of the pantry, which has over the past couple of years become “overstuffed” and is about as organized as a cat parade. The kids are now old enough to help us put away the groceries, and they have embraced this new stage of responsibility by developing a truly impressive talent to put things in completely random places. Why shouldn’t a can of beans be flanked on the shelf by a jar of Maraschino cherries and a dozen eggs?
Even though she’s an Indiana girl who had only seen the ocean once before we met, there is something about the beach that feels like home to Tammy. She especially likes Edisto Beach, where we go every summer. But we also have fond memories of Sunset Beach, where we went for a few years before discovering Edisto. When I was a kid, on the rare occasions my family took a vacation, we went to Myrtle Beach, about a half hour south of Sunset Beach, but another world entirely in character.
Sixth grade was not so kind to my daughter. She did better than she expected on the social part — and that was the part that really worried her, since she had heard so many frightening rumors about the chamber of horrors otherwise known as middle school. But the academic part proved to be much tougher than she had anticipated, and she struggled.
She would come limping in from school every afternoon around 4 p.m. with her enormous backpack full of heavy textbooks slung over one shoulder, causing her to list on one side. It was as if every burden of the earth was stuffed into that backpack, and she did not bear it lightly, oh no, dumping it with a thunderous thud on the kitchen floor and then stomping like Godzilla to the refrigerator, where she seized a pint of cherry vanilla yogurt as if it were a small car, ripped the top off, and then stabbed at the occupants with her shiny monster spoon until every last one of them was gobbled up completely. Tourists, probably.
It is just mid-April and already too hot to sleep, but too early in the year to resort to air conditioning. For years, I managed to do without any air conditioning at all, even in my car — partly out of some last remaining strand of stubborn resistance to being overly pampered, but mostly because when I bought my first car and my first house, I didn’t have enough money for such modern conveniences. It is much easier to maintain excellent principles when you lack the funds to compromise them. My car had a radio and floor mats and my house had doorknobs and a kitchen. In the summers, I kept the windows down and drank a lot of ice water.
“She can wiggle her toes.”
This text message — a simple statement of fact pertaining to my mother — would have seemed absurd just a week ago. It would have meant next to nothing, the punchline to some silly joke maybe.
(“And now, for her next trick ….”)
Over the past few months, my 10-year-old son, Jack, has developed an insatiable appetite for all things basketball. We spend hours out in the driveway playing “around the world” or “pig” (an abbreviated version of “horse”), where he unveils a dazzling array of turnaround jumpers and a truly impressive aptitude for the old school bank shot. He loves going to the fitness center or church and playing pick-up basketball with much older guys, even if he is not quite ready for that level of play and spends much of his time on the court nipping at the heels of the bigger guys like a particularly relentless Chihuahua, trying to steal the ball or harass them into making a bad pass.
It must have been 20 years or more since I heard a futurist telling a skeptical crowd the extent to which technology would be changing the way we live. He said that we would eventually — probably in our own lifetime — have unfettered and instant access to just about every form of entertainment we could imagine. He said we would be able to watch movies on our phones, and listen to any recording ever made — from Louis Armstrong to Loretta Lynn — on the Internet, and get the news minutes after it occurred. He said we would literally have the world at our fingertips.
I remember thinking, who wants to watch a movie on a phone? I also remember thinking how cool it would be to have that kind of access. Just imagine: as a lifelong fan of “The Andy Griffith Show,” I would someday be able to watch any episode I wanted with one or two keystrokes! As a lifelong music fanatic, I would be able to listen to any song or album I wanted anytime — and anywhere — I felt like it, since everyone would be using laptop computers and we would be able to get on the Internet virtually everywhere we went. Our computers would become the centers of our lives. Everything would become so … easy and fast. Everything would be great, beyond our imagination!
“Dad, do you think we’ll get out of school tomorrow?” My son, Jack, is standing in the doorway of our bedroom. Sunday night is bearing down again, and the weekend forecasts have been taunting him and his sister with the promise of a big snowstorm, which is supposed to begin around 7 a.m. on Monday morning, just in time to get them out of school. But he’s not quite prepared to buy in, not after having been burned already three or four times by faulty forecasts. What’s that song by The Who? “Won’t Get Fooled Again?”
I am living the days I have dreamed of all my life. “One day,” I said, somewhere ages and ages ago, “I will have children, and I will watch the Super Bowl with them just like I watched it with my dad.”
And now I do have children, and I am watching the Super Bowl with them, explaining different fine points of the game, explaining what the game represents and why the game means so much to the players, the coaches, and the fans. I am explaining (I do a lot of explaining — I am a teacher, you see, and a former sportswriter, so it’s not as if I can help myself. I would explain the game to the dog if the kids weren’t here) … wait a minute, where was I?
One of the pure joys of my job — teaching English on the college level — is getting to spend time with young people still working out their identities and finding their own way. In my composition classes, they tell me (and each other) their stories, and in my literature classes, they wrestle with Emerson, Dickinson, and Shakespeare, among others, absorbing it all and testing new ideas against their experience. We discuss, we debate, we search for meaning, we try to find common ground.