Saturday, May 19, 2007

Pearl 10: The Right Place, The Right Time

Dearest Eliana and Gehrig,

Good morning, my sweethearts.  We just got the pictures your Aunt Holly has taken of you and they are fabulous.  Isn’t your Aunt Holly a hoot?  She is one of our favorite people and has been like a third daughter in our family for well over 30 years.  I know you will grow to love her as we do.

We have been very busy lately.  Granny has been down in Austin taking your great Grandfather Dan (we call him “Paw Paw”) to his various doctor appointments.  He is settled into Englewood, a private residence apartment complex for senior citizens and retirees.  They have lots of activities for him (exercise classes, bingo, dominos, birthday parties) and much needed social interaction.  We hope he decides to stay there and not move back into his old and dilapidated house, but having lived in that house for over 55 years makes it difficult for an elderly person (86 years old) to give it up.

We want Paw Paw to meet and become friends with new people there at Englewood so he will have a support group to look after him.  The one thing we fear, if  Paw Paw were to move back home, is that he might fall or injure himself in some way and no one would be there to assist him.  That would be difficult for any of us to take.    It kind of reminded me of an incident I experienced when I was in junior high school with a friend of mine, William Robert Collins. 

William moved from Ft. Stockton, Texas to Pomona, California at the start of our ninth grade year.  Because he was from west Texas he had a thick southern accent and he was known by the contraction of both his first and middle names, Billy Bob.  Billy Bob Collins was somewhat soft spoken so it took him a long time to develop any friendships.  I liked the guy right away and kind of befriended him.  By the time spring rolled around, Billy Bob and I were good buddies.

We were both on the Marshall Junior High School baseball team and at one after-school practice, Billy Bob and I were standing along the third base line just past where the third base coach would be if we had been in a real game.  Since this was just batting practice, no one was in their correct position on the field.   I was facing out towards left field and Billy Bob was facing towards home plate, just to my right.  Our conversation drifted between the batting order for our next game and the length of Linda Bebout’s skirt at last Friday’s after-school dance, so I barely recall the crack of the bat that afternoon.  What I do recall was the look of horror which flashed across Billy Bob’s face as he tried to turn his head, the whiz of the hardball, as it sped two inches passed my right ear, and then the sickening sound of impact.  The hard line drive foul ball hit Billy Bob square in his mouth and there was an explosion of blood from his face which sprayed all over him and me.

Billy Bob dropped to the ground on all fours and spat out a mouth full of blood and six teeth onto the grass along with a flood of involuntary tears.  I stood there in shock for what seemed like forever.  I tried to pull him up but he was still spitting up blood so I rushed to the bench, grabbed a towel and dunked it into the cooler of ice water in the dugout.  I then rushed back to where a growing crowd of fellow players were gathering around their fallen teammate and made Billy Bob bite down on the cold, wet towel.  Despite his obvious pain, Billy Bob was strangely calm and wasn’t even crying as most kids would have been.  In fact, he kept saying he was fine and didn’t want anyone to fuss over him.  I kept thinking how brave this hard, west Texas southern kid was.

Billy Bob was O.K.  In addition to his lost teeth and considerable swelling, the ball had cracked his cheek bone and damaged one of his sinuses, a condition which gave him a permanent runny nose.  This was before the advent of teeth re-implantation so those six teeth were goners, but Billy Bob gained instant celebrity status, not only for his bravery, but because he was the only 14 year old in school with a bridge of false teeth, which he would take out and show to the girls, who would shriek in mock horror.  Lucky guy.  Remembering this kind of brings me to my next “pearl”.

Tenth Pearl:  The Difference Between Being in the Right Place at the Right Time and the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time is Sometimes a Matter of Inches

I have often wondered since that day on the ball field (and at several other times in my life) what would have happened if I had been standing just six inches closer to the third base line.  First, Billy Bob would still have all his natural teeth and a runny nose only when he had a cold.  However, second, I would most likely have been paralyzed or dead.  A blow to the back of the head, delivered with the force of that foul ball, could have easily cracked my skull or crushed the vertebrae in my neck.  Were it not for a matter of inches, I could have been in the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time, instead of the right place to help my injured friend. 

Now I don’t believe in luck.  Luck, as the pundits say, is where opportunity meets preparation, and nothing more.  However, I do believe in fate; the universal principle or ultimate agency by which the order of things is presumably prescribed.  Of course, in my belief system, the “ultimate agency” is God and His host of guardian angels.  As fate would have it, I avoided tragedy that day and many other days to follow.  And fate will determine if you two will spend more of your lifetime being in the Right Place at the Right Time than the reverse.  We can help fate by not tempting it.  In other words, by making right choices, but sometimes our only hope is that angel who looks over you constantly and gives you that imperceptible nudge in the right direction.  Inches and/or seconds away from the wrong place at the wrong time.

There will be those people in your life who will tell you this is all a bunch of hooey.  But your Grandpa Jud is here to tell you it most certainly is not.  If you are interested in more life stories which support that claim, just ask me.  I will enjoy telling them to you.

I believe Paw Paw is in the Right Place at the Right Time.  He has heeded the call of his guardian angel and made the right decision to be in Englewood.  I hope he eventually acknowledges that, for his own sake and for that of his children.

Got to run to get ready to drive into Dallas with Granny.  We are giving a presentation on poverty and how we can help at our old church, Our Redeemer Lutheran, in Grand Prairie tomorrow.  I am pretty confident that on Sunday morning, we will be in the Right Place at the Right Time.

God Bless you both and, remember, I love you….bunches and bunches.

Grandpa Jud

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Pearl 9: A Skinned Knee Can Be a Good Thing

Dear Eliana and Gehrig,

Good evening, my two gorgeous sweethearts!  Do you miss your Grandpa Jud?  I sure miss you.  It has been almost two whole weeks since I have seen you and it will be a while before we see you again in July.  You will have changed so much by then.

By the time you are old enough to read this you will probably wonder what I mean saying you will have changed so much in just two months, but you are growing and changing so rapidly during this early time of your lives.  When you get older, like me, you look at change from a different perspective.  At our age we can see change in minutes and decades with equal clarity.  For instance, what will life be like for you two when you are 10, 11 and 12 years old?  I know your lives will be completely different than mine was at that age back in the middle to late 1950’s.

Of course, you have to realize we didn’t have computers or video games or even color television (our first color set was purchased in 1959).  We didn’t have shopping malls or megaplex cinema.  We were not allowed to be inside on a summer’s day.  Our mom’s shooed us out of the house early in the morning and we weren’t supposed to come back until dinner time.  Each days activities were a mystery to all of us.  We played war games in the yard.  We built a tree fort and defended it against foes, both real and imagined.  We had BB gun fights and, despite our parent’s warnings of lost eyesight, never a casualty was recorded. Fighting the battle of boredom and winning.  Imagine that. 

We hiked up to “Twin Peaks” in the California foothills, an almost two hour trek, and shared a soggy peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a warm Coke we had carefully packed in a brown paper sack and were kings of all we surveyed from our lofty perch.  We dug a cave into the side of a dirt hill in a small forest area behind the Junior High School.  It was cut back into the hill ten or more feet.  There was probably several tons of dirt which could have buried us alive at any moment but we spent hours in that cool place on hot summer days contemplating life.

We rode our bikes about 10 miles up to Puddingstone Dam with our fishing poles and caught tiny button-back perch on worms we dug out of the ground in my Dad’s flowerbeds.  We dashed ourselves to the ground for hours on our Slip ‘N Slide in the front yard and ran through the sprinklers.  When we were thirsty, we drank out of the water hose if Mom ran out of Kool Aid.  We played in “The Wash”, a man-made drainage sewer channel which carried the effluent from the local paper mill to the ocean and when it flooded after a heavy rain, we would swim in the ponds it created.

After dinner we were back outside in the last few hours of daylight and organized neighborhood games of Hide and Seek, Ring Around the Rosie, Kickball, Red Rover and, my personal favorite, Kick the Can.  Sometimes we would just lie on the cool grass and watch the girls play Hop Scotch and Jump Rope on the sidewalk until our parents stuck their heads out the door and yelled for us to come inside.  Where did the day go? 

Now, some of the things we did, like riding on our bikes with a friend sitting between the handlebars, were dangerous.  We fashioned homemade slingshots and plinked at cans and each other while climbing the trash piles down at the junk yard.  We climbed trees, wondered construction sites after the workers left and occasionally got into trouble. We took a lot of risks and there were opportunities to get hurt.  But, for all the crazy stunts we pulled, no one ended up with more than a skinned knee.  We were happy and healthy, got plenty of exercise and it was all interactive play which built social skills and camaraderie.  Don’t think you can get that from an X-Box.  Which kind of brings me to my next pearl.

Ninth Pearl:  A Skinned Knee Can Be a Good Thing

Parents today tend to over-schedule and over-protect their children.  Certainly we want you two to be safe.  We would never want you to be injured in any serious way.  But helmets, knee pads, elbow pads and tethers to ride a BIKE?  What’s next?  “Oh, honey, be sure to put on your helmet if you are going to open that can of tuna.  Watch out for the squirt”.  Skin that knee a couple of times and you will learn how to prevent the casual accident pretty darn quick.  I know.  I could spell Mercurochrome before I was six.

We do live in a more complicated time.  In the 1950’s children did not seem to be at the same level of risk they are today from external threats.  Our parents did not know where we were during those summer days or what we were doing.  Parents today can not be that cavalier.  But I hope your parents will allow you both the freedom to be yourselves.  Let boys be boys and girls be girls.  I hope you will take that opportunity of freedom and use your youth to discover yourselves; your skills, your limits, your potential. For every skinned knee, you will have learned a valuable lesson.  And Mom will always be there to kiss it and make it better.

I love you both so much.  I will write you again before I see you in July.  In the meantime, try sleeping through the night.  You will find it will be good for you and do wonders for your Mom.

God’s Blessings on my Sweethearts.

Grandpa Jud