56 and 56

According to infoplease, the top year for births in the USA was 1957. 4,308,000 babies were born that year.

Coming in a close second was the previous year, 1956. That’s the year I was born.

All year I’ve been meaning to write about being 56 years old and being born in ’56. These numbers occur to me as amazing. But it’s not so unique. Four million other people had the same experience this year.

Nevertheless, it’s an opportunity to be profound about a number, and I don’t have time to be profound right now.

I could have written a sonnet. An essay. Or at least a Limerick.

Maybe that’s what there is to say. This is no different from life itself. Tomorrow I’ll be 57, and will still have been born in ’56. When we put things off until later, the opportunity never comes back around. So all we have is now.

some micro reviews (really micro)

I’ve been in going-to-The Manor-movie-mode lately and have seen some good ones. Here are the micro reviews:

Mud:  Odd story. A bit of suspense and the ending delivers. It works.

Frances Ha: Loved the way it was shot. Very inventive, pleasing sense of place. Cool characters. The premise was a bit weak for my taste. Not enough at stake.

Much Ada About Nothing:  A total treat. Shot in black and white. Beautiful people speaking beautiful language in beautiful surroundings. No big stars. It’s all shot at director Joss Wheden’s house in 12 days — amazing.

Remembering Scotty

Scotty Mitchell

Scotty Mitchell died on Wednesday. Tennis players in Salisbury (a.k.a. great friends) will miss him mightily.

As a player, he had an amazing forehand crosscourt return of serve. The angle was so sharp it made one wonder how the ball could realistically get over the net.

In my 20’s and 30’s, I played a lot of doubles matches against Scotty. In the traditional manner of the day, I served and volleyed, every time. Always serve and volley. Always.

Being a teaching pro and a tournament player, 35 years younger than Scotty, I used to look at the old man and assume I could overpower him.

So I would serve, come in, and then watch these effortless returns scoot by me, WAY out of my  reach — almost sideways to the net. Amazing.

But of course it was the conversation that set him apart the most.

I only saw him at three places. Primarily at the tennis courts. But also in coffee shops and at the library. Scotty was a constant reader, always sharing something fascinating from the book he was currently in. He was kind of a reluctant scholar — an extremely well educated man with tons of life experience who could relate to absolutely anybody.

And I mean anybody.

A lot of characters show up at the tennis courts (especially back in the day, when pick-up games were the norm in tennis in Salisbury). Oftentimes, one shows one’s true colors in a close match. Scotty was great with everybody.

I remember a pick-up match in which an argument erupted over a line call. Two of the guys started getting nasty. One of them (seriously, now) pulled a knife out of his tennis shorts and flicked out the blade.

I was watching. Scotty was on the court, playing. He wasn’t rattled in the least.

“Put that away,” he said. “Ad out.”

If my memory serves me correctly, he was 55 when he moved to Salisbury. That was in the City Park tennis era and the sport of tennis was riding a wave of popularity. The courts were full much of the time. You didn’t need to make phone calls. I would just ride my bike down there and find a game. It was quite a family.

He retired from G.E. about the time Catawba built it’s new tennis center (about 28 years ago?). He became the tennis coach there. It was a labor of love. I know, because I applied for the job myself and didn’t get it — possibly because my jaw dropped when they told me the pay.

I live two blocks from those courts and in those years made my way there daily. Scotty was the maitre ‘d.

My son grew up playing there and being the recipient of Scotty’s warm encouragement. I loved hitting with Aaron, but he preferred playing with Scotty. During much of his childhood and teen years, he would ride his bike to the courts almost every day and hit balls or play sets with Scotty. The man was in his late 70’s and early 80’s then, and he was a magnet for tennis players.

We couldn’t afford for Aaron, my son, to take a lot of lessons. I taught him the fundamentals myself. But it was Scotty’s incredible generosity that was largely responsible for Aaron having a tennis scholarship in college.

Many days, I would hang out at the courts and talk Scotty’s ear off while he strung rackets, listened to my various woes, and shared his wisdom. A Dartmouth grad. A WWII soldier in the Pacific. An avid reader. A father of six.

He said he played tennis as a child and then turned to golf until he was in his 50’s and moved to Salisbury. Then it was all tennis.

He, Dr. David Smith, Dr. Joe Corpening, and my father were all about the same age. Scotty was the oldest, I think — by a year. He died Wednesday at the age of 92, outliving the other three. They were all remarkable people and tougher than nails, accomplished tennis players who kept running and hitting balls until their bodies would no longer allow them to.

I regret that I can’t be at the funeral tomorrow and be a part of the sharing of memories.

I last saw him a couple of months ago, at the City Park. He was sitting on the bench, watching a doubles match. He asked me about my life, my work, my family. I asked him if was going to join the game — if he was still playing.

“Play?” he said. “I can hardly walk!”

Scotty was witty, funny, kind, and wise. He was unique. But these memories of him are not unique. I know I speak for countless others when I say I loved him, I’ll miss him, and I’m extremely grateful to have spent time with him in this life.

Transformation: what’s possible for…a tree

Yesterday afternoon, I was visiting with Kim Hinson at his shop, German Imports, in Kannapolis.

We had been talking for a good while, about a wide variety of topics: business, money, illness, health, stress, life, death, family, the past, the present, and the future.

Kim’s full of ideas and insights — always entertaining and always enlightening.

As I was leaving, about 6:15, he said, “Have you seen my tree?”

“What tree?” I asked. “That one?”

I pointed to a big tree in his front yard.

Kim’s shop is just down a hill from his house.

“No,” he said. “Hold on. You wanna see this.”

Well…we were surrounded by trees anyway. I was actually ready to go home and eat dinner, and I didn’t know where this tree was and why I would want to see it. I knew it was in the opposite direction from where I had parked my car.

But if somebody can be that excited about a tree, well, I guess I had to see the tree.

He locked up his shop and we walked up the hill and around to the back of his house.

And there was the tree.

“Oh. That tree. Who did that?”

He gave me the artist’s name but I didn’t catch it.

And after all the talking we had done earlier, he didn’t have much to say about it. It’s a two hundred year old oak that died, and now it looks like this.

And now I’m curious. Does it have a name? Whose idea was that (Kim’s, I’m sure). What is it?

But the answers to those questions are for another day.

“See you later,” he said. He had company — some folks standing in his back yard, waiting to see him. So he turned and walked past the tree in his backyard to see them.

Click here to see Kim’s tree.

And click here to see other…interesting trees.

a really big egg

On Facebook, I posted a picture of myself holding this big egg — and Dennis Harris noticed that I was holding the big one closer to the camera, thus creating an optical illusion of bigness. He’s right. I did do that. Dennis estimates the larger egg is 1.5 times bigger than the other egg. I think it’s twice as big, or possibly three times bigger.

In any case, it’s a big egg. Below, you’ll see the picture that’s on Facebook along with another picture. This is also an optical illusion. The larger egg is closer to the camera again — because it’s so damn big!

You might also say that when I look to the east, my nose is closer to the ocean than my eyeballs, since — being a nose — it protrudes. You might say that the hood of my car is closer to where I’m going than the steering wheel.

I still don’t know if this is a triple or double yolk.

It’s waiting its turn. I’m thinking… cheese omelet.

big egg

Mother’s Day — Remembering Mom

Of course it doesn’t need to be Mother’s Day to remember Mom. Our parents are always with us.

Today, I was walking my dog around the Catawba campus when a guy called to me from his screened porch, saying hello, ‘how’s it going?’

I haven’t been walking as much lately as I used to (and certainly not as much as I need to). I’m not sure how long he’s lived there, but he’s one of those neighbors, three blocks down, who I’ve never really met. We’ve never really talked. He’s sort of a friendly, hello-how-are-you neighbor.

Through the dark screens and in the dusky light, I couldn’t see him. I could only see the porch. I stopped for a minute of conversation. We talked about the weather. The sky was getting dark and the wind was blowing. I realized I better not go far. It was going to storm.

He said the rain tonight will make for a beautiful tomorrow, for Mother’s Day. He was excited. He said he would be doing the cooking and he had big plans for that meal. I heard a woman’s laughter. I asked if he was with his wife — the mom — right then? He said yes, he was with his wife and daughter — all on the porch together, watching the approach of the storm and waiting for Mother’s Day. (As I said, I couldn’t see anything but screen).

Mom and Aaron

At that moment, I got present to the gift of Mother — and I looked across Innes Street, and through the vacant lot, and caught a glimpse, in the distance, of the house I grew up in. The house my mom built and raised her five children in.

Tomorrow, Alicia and I are having breakfast with my son, Aaron. A Mother’s Day celebration in the present.

But I came home from that walk thinking about the past, and my own mom. What can I say on my blog about Mom?

So I went to Google and found a few of her columns. She passed away a year and a half ago, but there’s an authenticity in her writing that had me get connected to who she was. A great way to remember her on this Mother’s Day.

Where did all those years go? A goodbye column. She wrote this about a month after she had been shell-shocked by retirement. I’m moved by how clear it is, considering that her Alzheimer’s was clearly present by now.

Return to Russia: 20 years of change I went to Russia and Latvia with my parents in April of 1998, along with my sister Susie, and cousins Laura, Steve, Judy, and Ethel. It’s a fitting story for Mother’s Day, since she talks of her own mother (my grandmother, Bubie).

Mom becomes queen for a day Really small world. Here’s another story appropriate for Mother’s Day. I never knew Mom wrote this or knew Tiffiany. Tiffiany has been cutting my hair, and doing Alicia’s hair, for many years in various salons.  She’s a great friend, and currently a Coffee News customer of ours and owner of Cool Nogginz, an awesome salon in Spencer. Tiffiany also did the hair for my film, Coffee Therapy — which required getting up really early in the morning.

Notes from the sandwich generation A blog I wrote about Mom when she moved out of her house.

———-Addendum: a few family mother pictures———-

Bubbie — Mom’s mom (my grandmother)
Alicia and Emma
Alicia and Aaron
Mom and Phyllis
Alicia and Sarah

a field of rapeseed

This is a yellow field I passed on Hwy 73 near Davidson, NC.

It appears a little greenish here, but the true color is a shocking yellow.

It was so bright yellow that I wasn’t the only person who pulled over to take pictures that day.

It’s usually a cornfield. This year, it’s rapeseed — and it’s an amazing sight.

proud enough to take a picture

Each summer, when the Salisbury Post publishes “The Garden Game” series, I admire the produce and quietly snicker.

I’m standing in judgment, not actually assessing those who think they’re such hot stuff because they can grow an unbelievably large tomato — but certainly judging those who have so much time on their hands that they would make a trip to town in order to have their pictures taken with said fruit.

So what does it say about a man who would brag about the size of an egg laid by his chicken.

I am here to do that.

My chickens have been laying some whoppers.

Really big ones. Double yokers. Fairly consistently.

It’s gotta hurt.

And I’m so proud that I took this picture.


Spencer Tracy’s speech in Inherit the Wind is a fitting response to our commissioners and representatives

Spencer Tracy in Inherit the Wind

Here in Rowan County, North Carolina, our County Commissioners are defending themselves against an ACLU lawsuit, because they refuse to open the meetings with an inclusive prayer.

Coming to their defense, our brave representatives in the state house took a shot at establishing a state religion.

There’s not a lot to say that hasn’t already been said — so why not let Spencer Tracy make the point. He said it very, very well!