Touchstones…

A couple of weeks ago I was at a traditional/dixieland jazz festival in Three Rivers, California, visiting my musical friend, Bob Ringwald.Bob Ringwald

If that last name rings a bell, movie and TV star Molly Ringwald is Bob’s daughter. He never mentions that in passing conversation but he’s proud of all three of his grownup kids and pleased to tell you about their families, careers and current projects if you ask.

Bob is the piano-playing leader of the very tight, very hot, Fulton Street Jazz Band based in Sacramento, which is home to both of us.

Ringwald has the happiest fingers that ever danced a keyboard. The fact that he is blind is no handicap for Bob but to those of us whose eyes work just fine but possess fingers like clay bricks, the way he can sit down at a foreign, rented piano and attack it without even appearing to search for middle-C is astonishing.

The funny thing about Bob and me is that we knew each other decades before we met.

When I was a teenager I never talked with Bob but enjoyed his jazz piano and singing at Capone’s Chicago Tea Room and Pizza Joint in Sacramento. Years later he would enjoy listening to me on the radio.

Bob’s life took him to San Francisco and Los Angeles. Mine passed through L.A. and Memphis.

We both always returned to Sacramento and eventually we howdied and shook hands at the world famous Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, where Bob has played piano since the Jubilee’s beginning thirty-five years ago and where I have been a volunteer go-fer nearly as long.

I’ve never been to Bob’s home or him to mine. I can’t claim him as an intimate friend but there is a unique closeness I think we both feel in the happenstance that we made ripples in the same pond and they eventually touched.

This year I’ve been invited back to emcee the Jubilee Opening Day Parade. It’s a great honor and a very special homecoming for me but the one moment I am especially looking forward to is when Bob rolls out in front of the reviewing stand on some flatbed truck, tinkling the ivories and grinning like some old ragtime Cheshire Cat, which he surely is.

I’ll see many other longtime friends in Sacramento that day. I’ll also recognize a lot of people whose names I don’t remember but whose company I fondly recall.

But seeing Bob Ringwald again will be as special as his rendition of Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag.

He’s a magical touchstone to my youth, my present and my future.

Lessons of the heart: Bob Rodness

I don’t know for sure what got me thinking about Coach Rodness. Maybe it’s just because it’s April and as you have heard, in spring every young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love — love of baseball. Well, that’s true of old men, too. At least for those of us who played the game with a feverish passion many years ago and can’t quite get it out of our hearts.

But I don’t think that is why I suddenly remembered my high school baseball coach. 

Today I told my youngest son something that sparked a synaptic link to a memory from my self-glorified past.

My son has recently had a spat with his wife. It has gone on for several days and is making both of them miserable. Having “been there, done that” (one of the greatest colloquial phrases ever adopted into American lexicon) I have grown weary of it and I told him, simply, “You love her and so do we. Make your peace with her.” It was just that simple. Dad had spoken. “Fix it,” I told him.And suddenly I realized where I had heard that calm, persuasive voice before.

Bob Rodness was a physical education and baseball coach at Highlands High School in the Sacramento suburb of North Highlands in the late 1960s. I was a skinny kid who could hit a little, couldn’t run worth a damn, but played baseball like nothing else in the world mattered because in my world at that time it was true.

 One day in P.E. class we were playing softball. Keep in mind this was the spring of 1968, right around the time Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It was a time fraught with racial tension and fears that we Northern California teenagers of the moment had trouble assimilating into the limited observations and half-baked philosophies of our very young lives. From our shortsighted perspectives it seemed the world was divided into colors and you took your side, you had no choice. We knew it wasn’t as simple as that, of course, and we knew that segregation and bigotry were wrong by definition and by moral imperitive, but we were too young and inexperienced to make sense of such worldly confusions as racism, assassination and, not coincidentally, the war in Vietnam.

We who grew up in the sixties need to look upon those events as the vortex to the psychological confusions that haunt us even now.

Back to the softball game…

I was pitching, a black kid I didn’t know was the batter. For no reason whatever he began taunting me in a mean, angry way. I don’t pretend to understand the world through his eyes, not then or now, but he was mad. He yelled a lot, I said something back and the next thing I knew he was on top of me, pummeling me for no reason at all other than the fact that I was on the opposing team and I was white and skinny.

Imagine something like that happening today. We would have both been hauled into the office, for starters. Police would have been called. No doubt both of us would have been suspended or expelled. It’s entirely possible that felony charges would be filed against one or both of us and dueling lawsuits would be launched. We’d be front page news and a community would divide and take sides.Lives could have been ruined for a minor scuffle between a couple of dumb kids.

What actually happened forty years ago was Bob Rodness. He simply yelled at us, “Knock it off, you guys!”And we did.That kid went back behind the plate, I threw the ball and he hit it. I don’t remember where or how well he hit it. The story was long over by then. The game continued, the period ended, we went on to our next class and forgot about it.

Admittedly, that was a different time in a naive world entirely alien to us now. But some things stick in our psyches forever.“Knock it off, you guys.”That’s essentially what I told my son today: “This fight with your wife has gone on long enough. It’s stupid.” The end.

But here’s the Bob Rodness story I really want to tell you, not because it made any lasting moral impression on me. Though, it might have, I just don’t know yet. I just love the memory of this:

Some fifteen years or so after graduating from high school I was a volunteer tending the exit gate at a music venue during the world-famous Sacramento Jazz Jubilee. In those days volunteers were allowed, indeed encouraged, to drink and make merry as they performed their duties. I took the encouragement to heart.

Two beautiful women in their twenties approached the exit gate requesting entrance to the party. I informed them nicely that they would have to wait in line at the actual entrance gate. But gosh they were pretty, and I was nicely toasted. We got to chatting and as we did an older couple approached my gate. With one arm around each of the beautiful young ladies, a large beer in one hand and cigarette dangling from my mouth, I heard the girls exclaim in unison, “HI, DADDY!”It was Coach Rodness and his wife. And even though it had been fifteen years or more since we had seen each other he recognized me.

He sized things up quicker than I did, threw his head back and laughed the unstained laugh of the pure and pious as I whipped my arms away from his daughters, dumped my beer in the nearby trash can and stepped on my cigarette.I expected him to order me to run laps but he just kept laughing until tears were streaming down his face.And yes, I let the entire family enter through the exit.

© 2008 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

The ugly truth

Yesterday, Sunday, Carolann and I went to Disneyland with our oldest son, Jeremy, his wife, Emily, her mom, Gloria, and of course the grandkids, Isaiah, 5 and Tyler, 3. About five o’clock Emily’s mom took the grandkids home with her and we took Jeremy and Emily out to dinner at a fabulous Japanese restaurant. I had a wonderful day, got home late; went to bed at 9:00 instead of my usual 7:00PM.

Today I feel like I’ve been on a week-long bender.

I overslept, didn’t work well, had to fight drowsiness on my drive home, took a two hour nap — after a one hour struggle to go to sleep — and still feel like crap. Twenty years ago I stayed out very late in honky tonks four nights a week, drank heavily, got two or three hours sleep and was ready to rock and roll the next day.

Now a day at Disneyland has kicked my butt.

Say what we must about the pleasures of aging gracefully and the wisdom of experience it brings. Sometimes getting older just blows.

© 2008 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Heroes to a fault

Dusty Morgan is a former deejay friend of mine from Sacramento. We’re about the same age. We lived through the wonderful fifties and sixties together in total ignorance of each other’s existence until we grew to be old and worldly — twenty something.

With his approval I’d like to share the note I got from him recently. He sends these out to friends like Anita* and me who appreciate his perspective and his voice.

—————————————

morgan musings

the kid from summer …

You might have already heard the news that one of the Dodgers storied legends passed away recently. The press release read: “Former Brooklyn Dodgers Star Johnny Podres dead at the age of 75.” Well, beyond Johnny’s contribution to Dodgers lore … I thought I’d take-up a few lines here and with a little ground level recollection.

I can’t tell you what a baseball god Johnny Podres was to a 4 foot nothing Little Leaguer when those Brooklyn Dodgers moved to L.A. As one of the original ’58ers and game winning pitcher of the Dodgers first ever World Series Championship in ’55 … John will always be a hero in the eyes this former 98 pound catcher for the Palm Springs Red Sox.

I’ll never forget the night I managed to get his autograph after a game at the L.A. Coliseum. My buddy Dennis and I were running all around the player’s enterance and grassy area; trying to chase down anyone we’d I.D.’s as an actual player. I remember spotting Johnny walking by himself; heading toward a parking lot (probably where his car was) then taking off in a dead sprint to get to him before he got to that lot. With Dennis right beside me, we managed to “plead him to a stop” (he did) and then graciously signed a couple of autographs for a breathless pair of 4 foot nothings.

One of these days, from some earlier e-mails, messages and family history recollections I sent to my cousin Claudia, I might tackle a longer Baseball Musing about those Graffiti summer nights, chasing down players for their signatures, how some of them responded (or didn’t) and what it was like for a kid who’s dreams of baseball and stardom were hatched in a small trailer park just off North Indian Avenue in the less than rich end of … The Springs.

It’s not a unique story, but one that became dream seeds for the future.

It’s a little difficult to describe how the news landed in my stomach when I heard about Johnny’s passing. Maybe I’m just over reacting. Or as my dear friend Anita Garner recently wrote in an e-mail: * “Now, maybe 75 years old doesn’t seem as far off as it did back in ’58.”

A few months ago, I saw a photo on the Net of Podres, Duke Snider, Carl Erskine and (I think) Clem Labine in the dugout at a Twins game; all decked out in their old Brooklyn uniforms as they were there to help celebrate another baseball milestone. Looking into the eyes of those grand faces, it was tough for this old Little Leaguer to realize that these were once … “The Boys Of Summer.”

Of course, as we all know, and as Sonny once said to Cher: “The Beat Goes On.”

Now, I think what I’ll do today is take a memory stroll through some of my old baseball stuff, remember back to a few of those warm summer nights … then put on my old Brooklyn Dodgers cap and wear it around the neighborhood all day. Yeah, it’s probably silly. Then again, maybe one of the kids on my street will stop and ask: “Hey, what’s the B stand for?”

morgan musings / a production of tws north america

(* With acknowledgement to Anita Garner www.theagingofaquarius.com)

———————————————

Now, my reply to his note:

Morg,

My heart is smiling as only empathy will allow. I know where you’ve been and from where you come.

I was a Giants fan in those days. I remember virtually the same story you shared but it had a different ending.

I was eight or ten. A security guard at Candlestick Park thought I was cute, I guess. Among the dozens of fans hanging around outside the fenced-enclosed Giants players’ parking lot, he allowed me and only me inside the gate. My dad stood outside beaming with excitement. I watched, befuddled, as the players passed out of the locker room. I didn’t recognize any of them out of their uniforms!

But then I saw him.

Willie Mays!

Everybody started shouting and yelling for Willie’s attention. He ignored them and walked toward the car with the personalized license plate: WHM 24. I nervously approached him. “Mr. Mays, can I have your autograph?” He didn’t hear me. I shouted again. I was only about fifteen feet away. Surely he heard me that time!?

And after shouting a third time I realized yes, he did hear me. He was ignoring me. Blowing me off.

He got in his car and drove away. Took my heart with him.

Sometimes life’s lessons hurt and are not necessarily useful.

© 2008 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

I’m not your “Bro!”

The other day I was in a convenience store and the clerk called me, “Boss.” It was one of those chummy affectations like “Bro” which also annoys me. I don’t need to be called “Sir” but it seems to me that a guy who performs a small service I’m paying for, a total stranger I will likely never see again, could be a little more respectful of the relationship. I’m your customer, not your boss or your bro. It’s why I pay six dollars for a seven-pound bag of ice and why you get eight bucks an hour to sell it to me

And now that I mention it — I’m a CUSTOMER, not a “GUEST!” If I was a store guest I should get everything for free!

This is one of those old fart things, isn’t it? Don’t sugarcoat it. Tell me the truth. I’m making a big deal out of nothing, huh?

Well, it’s not nothing to me.

What it is, is a blurring of our healthy cultural relationships. It’s the same reason so many people today say “No problem,” instead of “You’re welcome.” We’re not supposed to think one of us is inferior to another, even for a moment. Ask a waiter for more butter and he’ll tell you it’s “no problem.” Whew! What a relief. I would hate to think that my asking you to do a small part of your job is a PROBLEM!

Fact of the matter is, a waiter really is inferior to his customer. That’s the way we all like it. It’s what we pay for. And when he gets off work and goes to a bar, HE’S the boss. I mean, the customer.

I know, I know…it’s an old fart thing.

Where’s my TV Guide?

Goodbye again…

Yesterday we buried my father-in-law.

His family gathered a day earlier in a great hall, as it generally does on Easter and Thanksgiving, to share food, drink and stories. Only this time, Bob wasn’t there except in a makeshift altar bearing ancient photographs, a few flowers, a guest book and a small plastic box of ashes.

At the cemetery yesterday they gathered again for a final goodbye to the first of seven siblings to pass. The other six were there, of course, as were many of their spouses, children and friends. Some spoke of their love for Bob and the family as a whole. Some remembered another funny story. Some kept it to themselves. My wife placed the box into the open grave and wept on my shoulder.

We all hugged, vowed to get together in a few weeks for Easter and went our separate ways.

A few months ago we buried my first mother-in-law. Again, we did it as families have always done, with comfort food and bittersweet memories. It’s the being together that matters.

A few years ago we said goodbye to my dad. Tears, hugs; food.

And here’s what gets me in the gut once these tragic gatherings have ended: for all our togetherness at such times I have never felt more lonely. I suppose it’s partly the idea that burying our immediate elders is inevitable and that it’s our turn next. But even more insistent is the great lingering “why?” 

What is the point of life at all if eighty-some years of living and learning is to be simply extinguished and interred or scattered to the winds or placed in a vase on the mantle? Why do we go through this exercise if it is ultimately meaningless?

Meaning, of course, is the personal pursuit. Whether your answers are found in faith or merely in the warmth of loving memory it is as unique to each of us as the paths we have taken. I find small comfort in that because the question mark remains. But here is what I have come to this morning, after days of grieving and wondering and a blessed good night’s sleep:

My father-in-law’s life was meaningful in its very occurence. He touched each of us and we, in turn, are touching those around us. Not very profound, perhaps, but unlike mere faith this is undeniably true. We are all the sum of the people we have known and loved. And they in turn, are us.

That’s not just a sympathy card platitude. It is the brilliant simplicity of an answer.

Why, indeed! I exist so that my children and theirs may have the great gift of my love and life.

Thanks, Bob, for the wonderful memories and for becoming part of our spiritual dna.

Camping in the 21st Century: Part one

Last summer our family went camping in Sequoia National Park and we had a wonderful time. So, this year we’re going again only this time we’re heading to Pfeiffer Big Sur California State Park, twenty-six miles south of Carmel. There will be about twenty of us, possibly a few more, and that means we need at least three campsites. Four would be better. I’m in charge of making the reservations.

The idea of having to reserve a camping space six months in advance of a trip is still hard for me to come to grips with. When I was a kid my dad would announce at the dinner table that we should go camping this weekend and so we did. No big deal. Even when I became an adult and started planning my own camping trips I could pack up the car with my tent, sleeping bags, Coleman stove, lanterns and whatnot and just head to the mountains or ocean with a good idea of where I wanted to go but with no reservation and no worries. That doesn’t fly in the 21st century. Not in California.

Yesterday, February 1st, was the first day campsite reservations became available for August of this year. That’s the way it works. If you want to go camping in any state park anytime at all next August you need to get a reservation within the first fifteen minutes of February. I’m not exaggerating and I couldn’t make that up, I’m not a state employee.

I was at work yesterday morning so my wife and son sat down at their respective computers with two phones each and began phoning and logging in to the California campground reservation line and website at 7:45AM. At the stroke of 8:00 all the campsites in California went up for grabs. By 8:15 all 191 campsites at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park were totally booked. No kidding. I’m guessing the Rolling Stones and Hannah Montana are going to be doing nightly concerts there.

Carolann and Jeremy managed to come up with two campsites, miraculously next to each other, but that still leaves us short of space for at least five people who want to go camping six months from next weekend. I’m going to keep attacking the website for cancellations. In July we’ll probably have to hold a lottery to see who has to stay behind to water everybody’s lawns and pick up the mail. By the time we actually make the trip I figure I will have invested two or three months in scheduling a four day campout.

Twenty or thirty years from now when my grandsons are grown and have families of their own I imagine this will be the dinner table conversation. (Of course, Americans stopped eating together as families decades ago but just for the sake of the scenario…)

TYLER: Honey, why don’t we phone Isaiah and Hannah and see if they want to take the kids camping?
MILEY: When?
TYLER: I don’t know. Soon. Next year, the year after, maybe.
MILEY: Next year? You think you can get reservations for next year?
TYLER: Yeah, you’re right. Maybe the weekend after the Fourth of July four years from now. The weekend after the Fourth is never busy.
MILEY: We have an appointment with the family counselor that Friday.

My dad got grumpier with age and I’m beginning to understand why.

© 2008 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

The terrible twos

When Isaiah was between two and three he would occasionally rip Carolann and me from our sleep with bloodcurdling screams that Stephen King might imagine. To me it sounded like our grandson was being mauled by some great beast.

Bolting from our bed and across the hall to his room, we would find him thrashing, screaming as if he was being dismembered and then going literally rigid. He was living, panting, trembling rigor mortis. We could not awaken him. We could only hold him and wait for it to pass. Eventually, it did.

The clinical term is “pavor nocturnus” – “Night Terror.” It can afflict anybody but fortunately children are usually spared more than a few of these episodes between the ages of two and six. Only fifteen percent have them at all and then they stop. Nobody really understands why.

But I think I do.

Yesterday I was given my very favorite gift: an invitation to stay with my youngest grandson, Tyler, while his mom and dad worked. Tyler and I have always had a grand time together. I push him on the swing outside and we sing and giggle together. I play with him and his Thomas Train. We read books, we watch Little Einsteins on TV. I feed him junk. I tickle him. He laughs. Tyler loves playing with his grandpa.

Until yesterday.

“NO GRANDPA!!!….NO!!!!!

He not only pushed me away, he was pissed! And who can blame him? When your life is still counted in months you don’t have the communication skills to express fears and frustrations beyond your understanding. Yelling and kicking is about the only choice you have and that’s what Tyler did. He swung wildly, beating on my arms with woefully tiny fists as I gently took him from my son. He thrashed left and right, kicking and screaming, reaching out for his father.

“DADDY!!!! DADDY HOLD YOU!!!!!!”

My son was wracked with guilt for leaving him, even with me. I understood and gently urged him to leave us alone. He left but I know it was killing him.

Tyler is pushing three. He’s a senior toddler. His world is bursting with a 24/7 nonstop fireworks display of new confusions, new reason, new ways of processing information and the incessant assault of new ideas on his fresh sponge of a brain. Everything is a new experience, fascinating but potentially overwhelming. Imagine yourself strapped down on a mad scientist’s lab table with some sort of data super injector lashed to your head. That’s what my grandson is going through. At times it’s a carnival, at other times it’s a bad acid trip. It’s a virtual avalanche of sensory downloads, a cacophony of weird and terrifying celestial music, hard rock, and dazzling flashes of brilliant, shocking colors. This, in itself, is not new to him, it’s the mental state of all human beings at birth. What is different now is that Tyler has arrived at the age of reason and it’s emotional shadow, fear.

Tyler’s instinct is teaching him insecurity. It’s a horribly lonesome journey into a black jungle of faceless threats. And, of course, it is the only path that eventually leads to self-sufficiency. The job of parents and grandpas is to let go. Sometimes, by force.

I had similar experiences, of course, when Jeremy was Tyler’s age. For all of the bumps and hard times I’ve suffered, nothing was as hard as having to walk away from my son and not looking back while hearing him behind me screaming, “Daddy!” However long I live I would rather suffer anything before having to push my child away from me again. I’ve thought about that a lot over the years, thankful that the time was behind me. What never occurred to me until yesterday was that I would someday have to watch my child let go of his.

Jeremy tore himself away and went to work, leaving his son in a heart-wrenching fit. I calmly, quietly, repeatedly, reassuringly asked Tyler to let me push him on the swing or play with the wooden Thomas Train or watch Einsteins but he spurned all invitations. I never tried to pick him up because a mere, gentle touch of his head would set him off again. I just let him finish his work. Finally, after a half hour of lying on the floor punctuating his soft crying with occasional angry screams and kicking, when he finally began to tire of it all – I smelled something.

“Tyler,” I asked softly, “do you want Grandpa to change your pants?”

He didn’t look at me but calmly said, “Okay.”

I picked him up. He didn’t kick. He laid his exhausted head on my shoulder and his arms around my neck. After I wiped his tears and nose; after changing his pants, I turned on the TV, put him in his favorite rocking chair, and I sat down on the couch. A moment later he got out of the rocker and came to sit next to me. He snuggled under my arm.

We were fine.

Next time somebody tells you about his kid’s “terrible twos” gently suggest he try to imagine it from the child’s perspective.

© 2008 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Prattling…

I have a dog behind my butt.

That’s not something I would normally mention but I’ve had a severe case of writers’ block lately and that’s what “they” tell you to do, try to break the mental logjam by just writing about any ole thing that pops into your head. And believe me, when you have a dog sleeping behind your butt, forcing you to sit on the front edge of an office chair it’s a front-of-mind thing. Especially when there is nothing else going on in your mind.

(Sigh…)

I have nothing to say. That’s what it is, really. I don’t believe in “writer’s block.” I believe in “writer’s laziness,” “writer’s apathy,” and a few other similar afflictions which really amount to neither more nor less than the most dreaded and shameful of literary afflictions, writer’s insecurity.

I have nothing to say. Wait, I just said that. And it’s not exactly accurate. I have plenty to say but no compelling reason to say it. Who cares what I think about anything? There, I’ve said it! That’s the heart of the problem, right there. Why should anybody find anything I have to say either interesting or useful? Why would anybody even read such drivel as this?

The dog just jumped down and left the room. I rest my case

In our book, The Aging of Aquarius, I think I mentioned how my father ruined me for talk radio long before I ever got into the business. When I was a young teenager, fourteen or fifteen maybe, he told me, “Everybody says you have a right to your opinion. That’s only half true. You have a right to an INFORMED opinion and if you don’t have all the facts you can’t form an opinion.”

What the hell was he thinking? What kind of country would we be living in today if everybody realized he couldn’t possibly know all the facts and should maybe just shut the hell up? We’d have nothing to do but smile and listen and nod in approval or, at least, in earnest fascination. Instead, we’re all too busy thinking of what we’re going to say to listen to the person speaking. Besides, we have talk radio and TV news to tell us what to think and how to feel. Oh, don’t kid yourself. That’s exactly what they do! That’s what everybody is doing if you think about it.

Text messaging. No, I’m not digressing, just taking a short trip around the block. You know what text messaging is? It’s a marvelous new technology that has made it possible for us to express our ill-informed opinions and half-baked ideas without being challenged, questioned or opposed! Think about it. Now you can phone somebody and tell them what you want to say without having to listen to and feign interest in any response! That’s what the kids are doing. In essence they’re saying, “I have something to tell you…don’t care what you think.”

And, we have blogs. Ugh. I hate the word. “Blog.” It sounds like some vile vat of I-don’t-want-to-know-what boiled over a wood stove and served with a fatty piece of rat gristle at some pagan medieval feast.

The dog just returned. She’s looking at me with keen interest.

Maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe the fact that every teenaged, barely sentient hominid with ten fingers and a Best Buy gift card can fire off missives and proclamations to the future is a good way for society to blow off steam. Maybe blogging and My Space and Facebook will save the world by turning the next Osama bin Laden into a mutant nerdbot before he has a legitimate feeling and becomes dangerous.

‘Scuze me. I need to slide down to the very edge of the chair and arch my back over the slumbering Yorkie for a moment. Oh! That’s better.

But here’s the thing: I write these words and push a couple of buttons and like magic they’re on the WORLDWIDE WEB! So the “f” what? Excuse my implied profanity. Who fricking cares? Who notices? It pops up on my screen just like it was when I wrote it except now I know that anybody in the world can read it! Will they? Why would they? Why should they?

See my problem?

And please, as much as I know you mean well, please don’t send a comment to this essay telling me how much you enjoy my writing. Seriously, if anybody does that I will be doubly embarrassed because I know it will just be a pity compliment. So, don’t.

See what my wife has to put up with?

PS. I don’t think this stream-of-consciousness thing works too well, do you?

© 2008 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved

Up on the housetop, reindeer pause…

December 8th is an anniversary for me. This year it will mark seventeen years since the day I fell off the roof of our house while putting up Christmas lights.

I only fell eight or ten feet and I managed my fall. Knowing that I couldn’t prevent it I intentionally jumped and hit the ground with a tuck and roll strategy to minimize the damage. I shattered nearly every bone in both heels and ankles. After five hours of reconstructive surgery I spent a week in a hospital. I was in a wheelchair for the next three months while receiving painful physical therapy three times a week. And now, seventeen years later, I still walk with a noticeable limp and am in constant pain. If I spend a full day on my feet for some special occasion — a family outing at Disneyland, for example — the pain can be so excruciating I can’t sleep. On my best days it’s just a constant, nagging reminder of one really bad decision I made a couple of decades ago.

And I’m the lucky one. I could have easily broken my neck or back and been in that wheelchair for life, paralyzed from the waist down. I could have died. People do, even from a fall of just eight feet. The doctors at the ER told me ‘tis the season. They get many such cases every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And there is one thing all of us have in common: We’re all, every one of us, smarter than the fools who will take a tumble.

Absolutely none of us think we might fall off the roof when we go up there. I know you. You don’t think so, either. You’ll be more careful than I was. “Thanks for the heads up!” you’re thinking.

That was my attitude, too.

That morning, December 8, 1990, Carolann phoned me from a friend’s house to say she saw a sign in our neighborhood for a guy who would put up Christmas lights for $20 but I said, “Oh, no. It’s my job. I’m the dad!” It cost me thirty THOUSAND dollars and a lifetime of constant pain to put the lights up that year.

And there are the dreams. You have occasional dreams of being able to fly? I have frequent dreams of being able to run again, to run like the wind in a baseball outfield as I did when I was young or just to chase after my grandsons at my current age. I can’t do that. I have to call after them and hope they run back to me.

All for the sake of Christmas lights.

I met my wife when we were teammates on a competition dance team. I haven’t been able to dance with her for seventeen years now. Oh, we can slow dance but we can’t do the show-off stuff, the fun spins and fancy twirls that brought us together in the first place.

Thanks to those damned Christmas lights.

Frankly, I get tired of telling this story so I’m not putting much effort into it. Some of you have no plans to go on the roof so it doesn’t matter. The rest of you are going up on the roof no matter what I say.

Personally, I’m not going to fall off anything higher than a bed or a barstool from here on out. You all do what you like.

I really hope you have a wonderful holiday season. I mean that sincerely.

Merry Christmas; Happy Hannukah…

“God bless us (and ground us…) every one!”

© 2007 by David L. Williams, all rights reserved