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.

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!

if you’re going to break the law, at least make it count [video]

These are the leaders of my county’s government.

This is an argument that has its roots in city-county school merger. 24 years ago.

Really. The conversation has changed a little. But this is basically a 24 year old argument.

Who owns the school system? The city or the county?

A new administrative building is badly needed. Where will it be? The city or the county?

I love this city. And I love this county. Which means I want a strong school system and all the great things good schools can bring to a geographic region.

Seeing a video like this of our leaders trying to talk about our school system is almost too painful to watch.

[Mr. Sides wants prayer in all country meetings. I don’t agree with him praying at the meetings, but I can pray for him on this blog. Please God, help him lead!]

A generation has paid for this attitude with their spotty educations.

We’ve paid for it with our economy.

And now, when something big is at stake, they can’t talk to each other at all.

What is so fascinating to me here is that the scripture he uses is quite appropriate for the event. If Jim Sides had read it with some meaning and then let it sink in, it might have made a difference, even changed the course of history for this county.

It’s an awesome quote for what they are dealing with:

“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.”

Really adhering to THAT could change the whole conversation and get everything resolved in one hour rather than extending a twenty-five year old argument indefinitely.

Bravo to Jim Sides for picking such great words.

Yet, he reads it like a little kid who’s been bad. Like somebody is making him do it and he’s just muttering a bunch of sounds as fast as he can. He’s actually reading it like he’s a guy who’s breaking the law (which he is).

So it has no power. Nobody is listening. He’s not even listening to himself.

Then he completely disregards the scripture he just read. He never looks at Dr. Miller one time while he’s talking. It looks like he’s not listening. And he doesn’t acknowledge or respond to anything he says. While Dr. Miller is talking, Mr. Sides is looking away and fiddling with his water. He fairly asserts that he’s the boss, not a partner.

That’s not “esteeming others.” Nor is it looking “also on the things of others.”

Dr. Miller does no better. He doesn’t look at Mr. Sides either and has a rather patronizing tone.

I say, pray at home and at church. Do the public’s business in public meetings.

But if you’re going to break the law and use scripture at your government meetings, at least pay attention to what you’re reading and put it to some use!

[Thanks to The Salisbury Post for posting this video.]

Paul Bernhardt. A regular guy. What a gigantic life!

Paul Bernhardt passed away last night. He will be missed by so many. The heartfelt depth of that missing will be uncommon. He was a regular guy in a small town who made a gigantic impact on the town and the many, many people around him.

Years ago, when Steve Bouser was editor of the Salisbury Post, he wrote a column about Salisbury’s most this and most that. He listed Paul as Salisbury’s most compassionate man. He was. He spent the days of his life taking care of people, beginning with his wife and Paul Jr., and extending out to those with special needs anywhere and everywhere. If he saw a chance to make a difference in the life of a cat, a homeless guy, a friend, a neighborhood, or a city, he sprang into action. My mom was like that also. She and Paul were like two peas in a pod.

the gang
(L to R) Leon Zimmerman, Phyllis Zimmerman, Naomi Berhnardt, Paul Bernhardt, Rose Post, Billy Burke

He was a southern gentleman, a master in the art of conversation, and I am richly blessed to have participated in many of them with him. He was a good Democrat who started veering to the right just a bit in the past few years. He was a former mayor who never stopped coming up with ideas that would benefit the city.

He liked to talk. He liked to listen. He liked to think. He enjoyed ideas. And he loved to reminiscence.

I visited him last night, in his hospital room, just a few hours before he passed away, just in time to wish him an easy exit from this life.  His breathing was calm. He was comfortable and peaceful.

This is a link to a blog I wrote a little over two years ago about having dinner with the gang pictured here…

My, how quickly life surges forward. What a difference two years can make in who is here and who is not.

Jimmy Hurley

A lot of people make a difference in other people’s lives. That’s the real juice in being a human being. And then there are those who are dedicated to it. Those who give their lives to making a difference.

That was Mr. Hurley.

I didn’t know him well, but I knew him all of my life and heard my mom talk about him a lot. Many people (including me) have a habit of complaining about their boss. My mom worked for Mr. Hurley for decades and everything she ever said about him revealed profound gratitude and respect and loyalty. A certain kind of bond happens in a working, creative relationship over many, many years. It’s love.

She told me many times of the secret things he did for people anonymously in order to solve a problem or make a difference.

When my father’s business closed and Dad was able to actually leave town for a couple of weeks, Mr. Hurley offered to send my parents on a trip so that Mom could write about it for the Salisbury Post readers. Mom picked a place that, I’m sure, she never would have thought she would ever go. China. Imagine that.

There’s a room in the journalism department at UNC named for my mother. The NC Writer’s Network annual Creative Nonfiction Competition is named in her honor. Both honors, and others, are well-deserved, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Mr. Hurley had something to do with making that happen.

Mom told me once that when the Post building was newly renovated, that she stood with Mr. Hurley at the window on the top floor, looking out onto Innes Street.

“It’s a dinky little town,” he told her. “But it’s mine.”

And that was how he used his life — being responsible for improving the lives of people in Salisbury. Some of the things he built bear his name. Most do not.

I remember when Catawba got new tennis courts. They had not had them for a few years and had no team. I had never seen Mr. Hurley watch a tennis match before, but he was watching that new team’s first match that day. He had had something to do with those new tennis courts being there.

“I think having a tennis team says something about being a good school,” he said.

That first day the new Y opened (the J.F. Hurley Family YMCA), I walked a few laps on the new track upstairs. He was there, walking.

“We looked around the country at Y’s,” he said. “This is the best in the country for a town this size.”

Jimmy Hurley was amazing. He passed away yesterday. And it is a dinky little town. And it is his.

a few notes about Poochie, my play, that opens Wednesday

Production shot from 'Poochie,' (Bob Paolino and Chris Speer -- from The Salisbury Post)

This new play has been different from any production of any play I’ve ever had.

I’ve had plays in other cities or states where I just showed up and saw the show. And I’ve had some around here where I basically watched the sausage being made.

But I’ve been busy. So I wrote it, gave it to the director, Justin Dionne, and basically left it at that.

I’ve had very little input. Even if I had had time for input, it wouldn’t have been a good idea. The direction and design is way beyond anything I had in mind for the little black box theatre on Lee St.

Because I didn’t really have time to go to rehearsal, I even gave Justin permission to change any lines he thought needed changing. A new play needs a little work, and I trusted him to do that.

It opens this Wednesday.

Saturday night, I went to rehearsal and saw the second act for the first time.  I was moved to tears — and I’m not exactly sure where the emotion came from.

Maybe it came from the profound gratitude I felt for these people applying such talent and hard work to the task of realizing something I wrote. Or maybe it was just the realization that I’m putting this material out there for others to see. Or maybe it was that I wrote about a piece of my life and saw it given back to me.

The play is about caring for a person with Alzheimer’s Disease, and although I intentionally did not make this autobiographical — I have had experience watching the progression of the disease — with my aunt, my grandmother, and now my mother.

What it is, I think, is that my own play brought back memories in the staging that I didn’t experience in the writing — if that makes any sense.

People may think or say I wrote a play about my mother. And there’s some truth to that. But I realize now it’s not about the mother who is now in the final stages of Alzheimer’s.  It’s about the mother who took care of my grandmother when she had Alzheimer’s. And it occurs to me now (and not before now) that the granddaughter is me.

So that’s my note on autobiography. It’s all so personal and subjective. I don’t  know how audiences will react but will find out soon enough. Wednesday night.

Whatever happens, I’m awfully proud — stunned, actually — by what these folks are doing.

the makings of a great chicken wing advertising campaign

There are many platitudes about finding the good in the bad.  Silver linings.  Lemonade.  Yin and Yang.

It occurs to me that Italy Café could use this story to market their chicken wings.

Might I suggest an advertising campaign?

italy cafe
Italy Cafe

“A taste of our chicken wings is enough to make you commit armed robbery.”

I’m sure there are better ideas than that.  But, seriously, a full-blown advertising campaign, built around this story, could probably sell a lot of chicken wings.

After all, the perps weren’t just hungry.  They specifically wanted those chicken wings.  They must be pretty good wings.