Saturday, October 25, 2008

Football Break Through

From 1964 through 1970, I lived through a terrible period of football as played by the University of Maryland at College Park. Aside from watching Jerry Fishman give the midshipmen of Navy the middle finger during the 1964 season, Maryland football during that period was pretty much a wash. I got tired of "winning the first half" really early in my football career. Forty years later, with two children having graduated as Georgia Bulldogs, I now find myself rooting for a superior winning team ranked in the top ten and moving up. Not only that, I have a fine Maryland team under the guidance of Ralph Friedgen - Georgia Tech experienced - moving close to the Top 25. In other words, it's a great time for college football in my house.

It's even greater because we have a spousal break though! After many years, my wife, Nancy, has begun to raise her eyes from the spy novel she's reading to watch a notable offensive play from quarterback Matthew Stafford. This is a landmark moment in my life. Nancy graduated from a Lutheran college in the Midwest. She has no idea what it means for Fishman to give the finger to "Boystown" in 1964. Her college team was the "Saints." OMG

After forty years of personal frustration, football has become an unholy game for me. Still, I trust that all those midshipman can forgive a truly inappropriate gesture on the part of a frustrated Terrapin and schedule years of head-to-head competition well into the future. So Nancy sits on the couch opposite me, watching my twitches, listening to my verbal ejaculations. Gradually, though she may still refer to my team as "the turtles," she has come to understand that there really is something about a game that glues millions of fanatics to their stadium seats or their televisions every Saturday in the fall. Today, as LSU falls to the Dogs, I feel that Nancy will be there with me very soon, cheering them on to a bowl victory. After all these years, that's a damned good turn of events.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Fall Tradition Remembered

Every October 15, my mind floods with wonderful memories. From birth through my 27th year, the date marked an important event in my life. The story descends out of my dad's membership in the Uniform Rank of the Knights of Pythias. The URKP was an elite military-style company within a fraternal organization born out of the search for national reconciliation following the Civil War. Every good military organization needed a campground, with lodging, mess hall, recreation pavilion, and parade. The URKP had theirs in the small village of Burlington, West Virginia. It also served as a regional park, complete with playground, and was often rented for the day for family reunions, company picnics, church functions, and other large gatherings.

"Camp" at Burlington was paradise for a young boy. A creek bordering the camp offered hours of fun. You could explore the woods and fields forever. The frequent social events made the playground a great place to meet new friends. But "camping" at Burlington was, by no means, a wilderness experience. We were lucky to use a cottage that had every comfort of home. And there was a drive-in theater next door where I enjoyed the snack bar as much as the movies. Across the road was a small airfield with several Taylorcrafts and Piper Cubs, and a hangar that gave birth to many "homebuilts" over the years. I can say with confidence that Burlington was never boring.

Through the summer of 1974, I spent many weeks at "camp" every year, including several weekends of "cold camping" in the off-season. Opening the cottage and grounds for the summer, though exciting, was not especially memorable. Freezing temperatures lingered into May, so the campground usually opened on Memorial Day weekend. On the other hand, winterizing the place was like saying "Goodbye" to an old friend. Thoughts of family, friends, the big fish, fireworks, that scary movie, the old biplane, all those memories accumulated over the past six months filled your mind. Amid the blazing gold sycamores, brilliant fire oaks and maples, the smell of wood smoke, and a harvest of black walnuts, we went through the years-old closing procedure until the last item - pouring anti-freeze into sink traps - was checked.
At that point, it was time to load the car, proceed with all those repetitive tasks one does "just to be sure," then close and lock the big red door until Spring.

As American society changed, the URKP fell out of fashion. Lodge members grew old and passed away. In 1974, the lodge itself and all its assets dissolved. I haven't locked that big red door for 34 years now, but I still have the key and a remarkably detailed mental picture of the cottage and landscape that I loved.

In many ways, Burlington is with me every day, for my experiences there helped shape my values, and define my career, hobbies, and general interests. The impact has been so profound that I have asked my children to do their best to provide the same opportunity for their own families.

In weaving all of the memories about this weekend, I ask you, my readers, to do the same: Find a nearby paradise and escape to it often while your children are young. There will be no sorrow there.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

What Did You Do In The Great Depression?

A huge chunk of my 401k evaporated last week while I endured the roller coaster stock market along with millions of other happy retirees. Now I'm haunted by the growing awareness that my country could be managed by a messianic Marxist come January. These thoughts merged yesterday evening into several games of "Cat Bowling." My highest score was 158. Given that it's cool and damp, my arthritis is kicking in a bit, so my top score seems quite acceptable. After all, it only took eight games to reach it. By then, my thoughts had wandered elsewhere, including into a deep exploration of some political blogs. That led to an examination of some historic ups and downs in the nation's economy. For me, it means I end up somewhere in the Great Depression. That period is interesting for another reason: the marriage that produced me - in 1946 - took place in 1933, about the time that "hope and change" entered the White House in the form of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. My parents were never Roosevelt fans. They had to cope with hard times and political uncertainties, but I don't think "Cat Bowling" was an alternative.

Although my parents have long departed this world, I can still hear them talking about two of their favorite things: movies and dancing. I'm sure they weren't alone as millions who came of age in the 20s and 30s were value programmed, in part, by silver screens and dance bands found across America. So what did Mom and Dad do in 1933 to cope with the national uncertainties swirling around them? They probably saw this pre-code classic with its girls, airplanes, and a wedding:

Earlier in the same film, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire paired up on the dance floor for the first time. Watch them in this clip, and take a second, closer look, at those girls on the airplanes.

So much for "Cat Bowling." They had a much better time.