Making my best pitch

I have a dead file, in need of its annual updating.

The file dangles in the front of our family filing cabinet, a red hanging folder filled with all of the important stuff my family will need for when I depart this mortal coil: the songs I want played, the songs I wish to have sung – the how-I-want-them-played-and-sung at my memorial service – dead-file-e1327109698717along with the scripture, quotes and poetry I want to be read, and what I want printed on the program.

Pretty basic, but important stuff.

My wife and kids know where this file is, they know that all that key info will be right there, as I am trying to be proactive, not controlling.  They are mostly okay with this arrangement, and though they don’t know what’s in it, they figure they will deal with that if and when the time comes.

Or, hopefully, my children will simply be able to pass on the whole thing to their adult children under the banner of ‘you cousins can all take some responsibility for grandpa/great family-tree-relationship-chart-free-pdf-templategrandpa/great-great grandpa here.’

Good Lord willing, that’s the way it plays out.

As is my custom, I review the file at the beginning of the year – though not as some sort of resolution ritual, or anything like that. I am always reminded to do this by all of the year-end/year-beginning, tax-and-estate planning reminders from every direction and the television commercials featuring thought-dead-already celebrities touting ’providing for your family’ with mail-order life insurance. Though sometimes I get those commercials confused with those of some other thought-dead-alreadys and their reverse mortgage ads.

Now there is a spiritual analogy post just dying to be written.

This year, I found as I reviewed the tattered red folder that there is one key piece of information that I keep neglecting to place in my dead file: I’ve got to tell them where the baseballs are.  I also remembered I actually have to purchase, and then partially prepare said  baseballs.

Yeah, the baseballs.

Anyone who knows me and my family will attest to our love of the game. My wife Amy and I began dating late summer, 1991, as our hometown Minnesota Twins were en route to their second World Series championship, and let me tell you, World Series victories are great new-relationship aphrodisiacs. The following year we got married and had a Twins-themed wedding reception, followed up by family members and the wedding party (60 of us, all told) going to the Twins-Brewers game the next day, after hich we (just Amy and I) followed the Twins on the road to Chicago and Milwaukee for our honeymoon

So yeah, as a passionate aficionado of all things America’s pastime, baseball will certainly be as much a part of my departure from this world as it is in my existence on this rotating-like-a-fine-change-up celestial orb.  My immediate family understands that, and figures they will deal with whatever zaniness I have in that red file folder when the time comes, though the one particular aspect they do know of gets the ‘hot potato’ treatment amongst daughter Lindsay, and sons Will and Sam. (Amy wants no part of my baseball bequest and has long since informed all the kidlets that this one will be totally on them.)

Somebody is going to have to put me in the baseballs.

It’s pretty simple, actually, and far more feasible than other preferred options, like a traditional Viking viking-funeral-799141funeral.  The whole ship set ablaze and afloat (with my remains on it) while  in keeping with my ancestral roots and desires, is impractical and expensive (EPA permits and whatnot) and maybe just a bit pretentious. So while the whole Viking ship thing would be as exciting as an inside-the-park home run, my baseball brainchild is an easy, knock-it-outta-the-park game-winner.

That I hope doesn’t result in me getting knocked around.

Upon my demise, after everything donatable has been donated, organ and tissue wise, the rest of me will need to be cremated. That will leave me as a nifty little pile of ashes, which will then need to be handled in some way. As I have never been one easily confined to conventional parameters (literally or figuratively) I don’t see myself as sitting in an urn or ornate box on someones’ mantelpiece somewhere.  Bor-ring.

Hence the baseballs.

It’s pretty simple, really. A set of regulation, major league baseballs will be purchased, then will official-major-league-baseballs-edbe autographed by me; some signed as ‘dad’ some as ‘grandpa.’ Then, when the time comes to stash the ash, each ball will have a small core drilled out of it, just big enough to contain some of my ashes. Once the ashes are placed in each ball, the hole will then be sealed up with the drilled-out core and some epoxy, and the baseballs will then be ready for distribution to the next generation(s).

The idea could catch on – a sort of national pastiming-on, if you will.

The great thing about me being ensconced for eternity in baseballs is not only will what’s left of me be suitable for display in a ball cube, on a mantle or in a memorabilia cabinet, I will also be able to remain part of the family in a tangible, practical way.

For years after I am gone, when my grandkids and great grandkids get together someone will baseball-ed3always be able to say, “Hey! Let’s go outside and play catch with grandpa!”

And we still can.

Ummmm….but please, no batting practice, kids.

“Because grandpa said so, THAT’S why!”

 

https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B017LALIES

 

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Everything is on the table

Our kitchen table is an heirloom in training. Sitting here, with

Sitting alone at the table with open notebook, a pen and a fresh cup of coffee in the early morning light of day I can, with an angular glance, see the extensive preparation and practice that it has already put in. At a mere fifteen years, the table is hardly an antique – yet its smooth, blonde-maple surface is already pockmarked with the memorable nicks and ruts left by stray  100_4990utensils and homework-prodding pencils – stray treatises and Christmas letters.

All embossed in memory and maple.

My wife and I assembled the table the first night we lived in a rural, southwestern Minnesota Victorian we had just moved to from big-city Minneapolis; a new board-with-legs for our small-town fresh start. It fit perfectly in our new, multi-windowed, breakfast alcove; perfectly seating the four members of our family.  Our boys, then seven and three, were tucked into sleeping bags in the bare living room, as our furniture still in transit. We labored to assemble the table, determined to have a place at which to properly commemorate our first meal together in our new home and community.

The last screw was secured in the final chair leg just after two a.m.

Today, when the sunlight smothers it, you will see the signs of the life the table has nobly earned in service to our family. Worn spots mark each place setting. Plates and bowls of china, paper, and plastic have been repeatedly set down, slid around, eaten upon, picked up again. A knot on one end of the table has dried out, a small crack has now settled into a browned notch out of the edge. If you put your face close to the table’s edge and look at its surface, you can trace the hard-scrabble pencil indentations of the two boys who completed their homework each night 100_49891while mom or dad prepared dinner. Look very closely and you can find a worn two-digit, kindergarten math problem overlaid with something more algebraic, more recent.  The ancient nine-plus-three-equals-eight-no-twelve is still bold from the pressing of a hot dog-diameter pencil; the more recent equation made by a more elegant and confident ink pen.

The table has made its way south with us.

A million small lines zigzag the surface;  swooping  in graceful curves atop the maple, resembling a vacant skating rink in January. Every member of our family has triple-axeled this table countless times to the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ of each of the others. It is a spot of triumph, of place of individual and group confession, reflection, renewal. It has hosted countless meals, endless discussions, prompted numerous revelations; it has echoed the laughter of day-to-day  100_4986life, heard the solemnity of nightly prayers of thanksgiving and praise, sorrow and intercession. It has been spilled on, bumped into, lived on, all the while quietly, steadily,  and smothly  supportive.

It has served us well.

Some eight years ago, we uprooted our brood again – this time to New Orleans. The table that once bore mostly pedestrian, traditional Midwestern fare has become attuned to hosting more exotic and at times experimental and quirky  meals of gumbo, jambalaya, and crawfish.  I am certain the resulting changes in dietary spills and slops has only served to enhance the preservation and aging process of the maple; a seasoned patina – the spice of memories – add character to the worn wood

The table is loyal; it has been almost exclsuively devoted to our immediate family; guests have always necessitated a shift to the more expansive dining room version. I do not know how long we will live here in this house, this city; I do not know where the next stop on the journey might be.

I do know that the inexpensive-when-purchased, still not priceless, D.I.Y. table will accompany us.100_4979_00

Our college and high school boys who once needed help to scootch up their chairs now find little elbow room to spare, and the chairs creak a bit beneath their more considerable heft. Still, neither of them has asked if we will ever get a new kitchen table, or why we just  can’t eat in the dining room. The table has adapted nicely over the last few years from a haven of group work, to more solo time with family members; a boy with a bowl of cereal and spread out newspapers or school project is now more common than then the full-fledged mealtime family foursomes of the past.

The table also spends more time sheltering aging dogs seeking the relaxing companionship of their older boy’s stocking feet –  adept as they have become  at absent-minded petting.  Both dogs are equally content to lay there, soaking in affection, less time frenetically awaiting dropped crumbs from younger, less observant boys,  who used to provide ample treat-pouncing opportunity.

Mealtimes are cozier than they used to be, though this is just a phase of sorts. Our eldest son is almost through college, and his periodic sojourns home usually find us in the living room, munching pizza and binge-watching Netflix. Mealtimes for three of us frees up some of that vaunted and coveted elbow room, though probably to some occasional chagrin on our part.

Another school year and the table’s adaptability will again be tested,  as the term ‘table for two’ will be de rigueur.

Someday the table may serve in an entirely different capacity – maybe a first-apartment-hand-me-down for one of the boys, or maybe someday many years down the road and to the 100_4977puzzlement of a spouse, a much-wanted keepsake for one of them.

Not that they are likely to ask about its eventual fate now, but if they do I can just tell them, to their confusion and my satisfaction, that this little kitchen table is, indeed, our heirloom in training.

Vernacular

Since we are on the topic of words and phrases (you are reading a blog) and since both words and phrases have a sneaky tendency to come up in daily life, they need more attention and nurturing than they gply69barracudablue30enerally recieve. Your vocabulary, like your car, needs regular care and maintenance to function properly and last a long time.  Change those sparks-of-brilliance plugs, make sure your cliché-carburetor has the right gas/air mixture.

I am here, locution lug wrench in hand.

Words and phrases are odd creatures; people tend to overuse certain favorites, regularly mangle and misuse others simply because that is how they learned them, and most fail to increase the workable volume of useful and more colorful words and phrases available, which makes one dull and peanutsstillnot listenable to others.

Like the adults in a Peanuts TV spectacular.

We need to be vigilant to keep our vocabularic skills fresh and interesting by adding, discarding and modifying on a regular basis; shedding tired clichés like translucent snakeskin.  Plus, vocabulary building and repair has also been proven to keep minds more nimble and pliable, creating brain space and making it easier to absorb, store and utilize new linguistic concepts.

Dude. Its true.

Each of us has multiple vocabularies; the typical American possessing roughly six different, distinct lexicons.  There are the sets of words and phrases that we use in our jobs, vocations, and places of worship to name a few; most are very distinct from each other and while there is always some basic overlap, they are  also very demographic specific.  To drive home this point, I usually ask my inner-city high school students if they speak the same way to their moms and dads as they do to their friends.

“Ohhhhhhhh, nooooooo, Mr. Lucker.”

Family dynamics often revolve around a specific, DNA-linked dialect; most families have at least a few phrases or words – some entirely fabricated – that any outsider would be totally oblivious to.  Assimilating new members into rosettastonethe brood via most any means usually requires the newcomer to have to go all solo-Rosetta-stone on their new krewe.

My family has a distinct patois, featuring one phrase that stands head and wings above the rest.

In our household, when you are in vehement agreement with what was just said, you might respond, with considerable vigor, “I hear ya’ cluckin’, Big Chicken!”

That’s a good, gets to the heart-of-the-matter phrase to start vocab restoration with. Try it. Use it liberally in daily conversation with a hearty dash of enthusiasm – you’ll be surprised at how quickly this versatile little catch-phrase catches on:

“I hear ya’ cluckin’, Big Chicken!”chicken1

It’s also used a complimentary and validating phrase, as you are actively, positively acknowledging the opinion of the person you are agreeing with – you just need to up the enthusiasm and inflection in your voice a bit – emphasis on the possessive ‘I’.

“Iiiii hear ya’ cluckin’, Big Chicken!”

Moving on to more vocabulary repair and rehab while Big Chicken stews in your mind a bit.

A native of Minnesota, I longer go apoplectic when I hear people say ‘frozen tundra’ – must be a sign of maturity on my part. While that repetitively redundant phrase still irks me, I’ve moved on to more pertinent matters.

To wit…

The drink is ‘espresso’ NOT ‘expresso.’ Expecially when people who work in the coffee shop say ‘expresso’ I want to….espress to them my disappointment in their ignorance of the artistry and verbiage of their own craft. Which leads me to another familial-frequent turn-of-phrase:

“Buuuuuut, that’s just me!”

That one we stole outright from Spongebob Squarepants.  If he sues for royalties,  based on overall usage, we’re screwed.

And then there is the word pom-pon. Teaching high school, I get the chance to use this one (correctly) fairly frequently.

This one has bugged me for years, probably because I had a severe crush on a pom-pon girl when I was in high school, and I took umbrage at people disparaging her craft and the tools of her trade with one pathetically misspoken word.

Pom-pon. Pom-PON!

Some misguided dictionary editors now apparently recognize the second ‘pom’ as a legitimate and approved option.  Sigh. Language is a living, breathing thing, I know and champion that ideal, but sometimes…well, you just gotta draw a line: pom-pom = dumb-dumb, dumdums.

I had to take a morpheme to dull that pain.

Someone in my family should now intone: “I hear ya cluckin’, Big Chicken!”

Or not.

One other word quirk that comes in (less) handy. Years ago my mother gave me a nice red, cable knit sweater for Christmas. I unwrapped it, took it out of the box, held it up in front of me, then read the label – something I hadn’t seen before and haven’t since:chicken1

‘100% Virgin Acrylic.’

Make up your own punchline.

Okay, one last time before we take the training wheels off and let you use it on your own:

“I hear ya cluckin’, Big Chicken!”

 

History, in person

I am thinking today of my mom’s great aunt, Maybelle Sivertsen.

Having watched Hilary Clinton accept her nomination last night, and seeing all the posts on Facebook – especially from women – history came to life for me.

Born in 1898, Maybelle was an intelligent, raucous, bawdy, charismatic, charming and always elegant woman of deep faith,who was married to a prominent doctor, but her own life resume was pretty impressive in its own right. Among her many suffragettes2proud accomplishments were being a suffragette, and the work she did in helping women achieve the right to vote.

There is a family photograph from a cousin’s wedding in the mid-70’s. It is in my aunt and uncle’s basement, at the afterparty. Maybelle is seated in a chair in the corner, hands in front of her on the head to the cane she then used. She is sitting up bolt-straight, and is obviously in mid-oration. It is a picture that perfectly captures Maybelle as I knew her, but it is not what makes the fuzzy, Instamatic shot so memorable.

Sitting at her feet – some cross-legged on the linoleum floor, one or two crouching, all in their powder-blue tuxedos, many with long, ‘hippie hair’ – are the groomsmen from the wedding. Their heads are all tilted upwards as they are focused on Maybelle, and a couple of the more visible of the young men’s faces carry looks of awe. I have no idea what she is regaling them about; even in her mid-seventies, she was abreast of all the current issues and had definite opinions about all of them. She was a progressive, all-in for civil rights and equal rights.

Whatever she was saying the rapt attention of those young men. I totally get that.

Maybelle always had time for me; in part because she made time for everyone, in part because, more than most of my immediate family, I loved history and loved hearing (and telling) stories. At about the same time the photo was taken, America had just ratified the 26th Amendment giving eighteen-year-olds the right to vote. I was still a few years shy of eighteen, but Maybelle wanted to make sure I was crystal clear on the importance of that newly-minted right – a right that was obtained a lot more peacefully than was her’s.

From a woman who had personally worked, a half-century before, to get the 19th Amendment ratified, giving her suffragettes1entire gender the right to vote, I heard the gravity in her plea, the hopeful tone. In Maybelle’s eyes, this was a logical progression, just another step, and the right to vote was something I should cherish, and take very seriously.

I still do.

So the morning after watching history unfold on television, I am thinking of my great-aunt Maybelle – the suffragette. Somewhere, she is seated in a chair, sitting elegantly, proudly…her hands clenched firmly atop the head of her cane.

She is beaming.

Had a ball, to a tee

Baseball is prominent in Lucker family lore: my wife and I come from families of ardent baseball fans, and we met in the summer of 1991 – our dating life was intertwined with the World Series run and eventual championship of our hometown Minnesota Twins.

The following summer we were married, had a baseball-themed reception, took 60 relatives and wedding party members to a Twins game the day after the wedding, then followed our heroes on the road to Chicago and Milwaukee as a baseball honeymoon. We will celebrate the twenty-fourth anniversary of all that this summer.

But some of our greatest shared baseball memories don’t come from sitting in the cheap seats, or hanging out in a bar celebrating a World Series game two triumph with delirious strangers. Ours are far superior.

They come from our time on the field as t-ball coaches for our sons.

Amy and I spent four years as co-coaches for various teams our sons Willi and Sam played on, emphasizing fun and love of baseball over competition, and loved it all. We introduced not only our kids, but a number of others in south Minneapolis and Marshall, Minnesota, to grand additions to the grand old game such as pre-game bunny-hopping and conga-lining-around-the-bases warmups (10 minute warm-up periods were mandated by the Minneapolis park board – they didn’t say HOW to get them ‘warmed up’) to every-kid-wraps-up-practice-with-a-homerun, along with innovative team (and individual player) cheers and so much more.

Eldest son Willi is now a college sophomore, Sam the younger a high school junior. Willi’s teammates are also in college (or, in at least one case, a college grad!) and I see young kids in our New Orleans neighborhood in their t-ball uniforms, I can only think back…and smile.

The place was Sibley Park, in south Minneapolis. The time was post 9/11, jittery, uncertain 2002. It was the summer of the Bobbleheads – the greatest group of young ballplayers to ever cross a chalked baseline. No names have been changed because nobody’s innocence is threatened – only enhanced. What follows the chronicle of the magical season, as recorded and distributed at the time, from April through early June, in the Baseball Diaries – an emailed extravaganza that was the forerunner of this blog. It is a bit lengthy, but worth it.

Settle in for some baseball magic, in its purest form.

04/30/02
Dear Diary:

As the legendary Jack Morris said just before pitching 11 shutout innings in game seven of the 1991 World Series, “In the words of the immortal Marvin Gaye, let’s get it on!”

The above, I believe, is the Bartlett’s Quotations version of a double play.

This year’s dual-Lucker coached juggernaut is known as the Bobbleheads. The name stems from last years tee-ball experience with the SIBAC Tornadoes, where at least once per game one of the assembled parental or grandparental units would comment that “With the kids running around in those big, oversized batting helmets, they all look like bobble-heads!” First practice was tonight, and it went well. We caught some throws, we even caught a couple of batted balls, and not one kid ran to third base instead of first. We also kept the swarming of multiple fielders to hit balls fairly low, and registered just one “double wicket.” (A hit ball that cleanly makes it through two sets of infielder’s legs, ala croquet, while also eluding their gloves.) The new team cheer was a big hit, too.

Our SIBAC BOBBLEHEADS shirts should arrive tomorrow, just in time for our opening game against Hiawatha Park. We will try to refrain from extending our hands to the other team at home plate while uttering the phrase, “Hiawatha! We’re the Bobbleheads.” We’ll try really hard not to do that.

It’s always “A great day to play two!”

Goodnight, Diary.

autographed bat

 

05/02/02
Dear Diary:

Well, we celebrated a successful season opener on all fronts. The Bobbleheads had a rip-roaring grand time over at Hiawatha Park. It appears that our reputation is growing as we had three new kids sign on last week, and we got a little surprise when we met our Hiawatha opponents.

When their coach introduced himself to me he said he had never coached tee-ball before. He was a veteran of cubs, midgets and for the last few years, four pitch. He described himself to Amy and I as “really in the dark about how tee-ball works.” Not to fear I told him, just follow our lead. The Hiawatha kids were already a little taken aback at our calisthenic routines, but the parents and other crowd members seemed to enjoy it. The game itself was…an experience.

There wasn’t time to explain step-by-step what we were going to be doing, so we had to wing it. We were the visitors, and batted first so I was up at home overseeing. This made it convenient to simply yell out everything to everyone as loudly as I could. The first inning consisted of me yelling out instructions like “OK, coach Dan at first base! Reeeememberrrrr every kid who gets to first gets a high-five!” Followed by “Coach Bruce! Remember that evvvvvery kid who gets to third gets a high-five!” As I was at the helm at home, I took care of home plate-high fives.

By the time Hiawatha batted in the bottom of the first, their coaches pretty much had it down. Every kid getting to first got a high-five, every kid getting to third got a high-five, every kid getting home got a high-five. Every kid got multiple, well deserved, high fives. All in all a pretty smooth game in front of a large and boisterous crowd. (Hiawatha is a busy park next to a busy lake.) After they batted one of the Hiawatha kids asked what the score was. I announced/yelled out that after one inning of play, we were of course, tied “A bunch…to a bunch!” All concerned seemed satisfied with that answer.

Add in our conga-line base running warm up, five (count ‘em, five) different renditions of the “Gooooo Bobbleheadssssss!” cheer and game ending glove slaps, and I think you’ll find that tee-ball at Hiawatha is gonna start looking a bit different in the weeks ahead.

Spreading the word is what we’re all about. Its tee-ball gospel, the Bobblehead way!

Til the next time then, blazing new trails – the Bobblehead Way…

Regards,

Us

autographed bat2

 

05/16/02
Dear Diary:

With glorious sunshine and temps in the 70’s, weather the likes of which we haven’t seen for the past couple of weeks, spring returned today to the Twin Cities. It enabled the Sibley Park Bobbleheads to make their home-opener even brighter.

After squeezing in a practice between showers and then missing a game last week due to a deluge, it was good to be back on the Sibley aggregate basking in the glow of our fans and the sun. Resplendent in our fire-engine red shirts with SIBAC (Sibley Athletic Club) BOBBLEHEADS splayed in dazzling white across the chests we took on our brethren, the SIBAC TWINS.

Katie the park director was on hand getting us set up, and she informed us that the Twins were missing both their regular coaches for the night. She also said that their fill-in, Coach Chris, wasn’t well versed in tee-ball. Not to worry, I told her. We were ready to “Spread the gospel of Sibley Tee-Ball” just as we did a few weeks back at Hiawatha.

After filling in Coach Chris and his parental volunteers on the basics, I went back to our third base bench to address our parents. I explained that like in our first game, we were going to have to lead by example as our opponents were once again inexperienced both on the field and on the bench. I told them why I would again be yelling for both teams to hear me. Just so they knew the score, I had prefaced my remarks with “Lest you guys think I’m some sort of raving ego maniac…”

Play ball!

We batted first, doing wonderfully. Batting fifth tonight was Bailey, a ruddy kindergartener with reddish blond hair and freckles. He’s got game, and seems to enjoy the whole experience. As I was helping Bailey get settled in the batters box, I heard a chant break out from our bench: “Bay-LEE! Bay-LEE! Bay-LEE!” As I turned around to look, every parent gave me a shrug and an “I-didn’t start it” look. Seems that one of the kids did, and it took hold pretty quick. Bailey looked at me, blushed, rolled his eyes and said “Ohhhh man!” He then singled to short. The Twins just seemed puzzled by it all.

The rest of the inning went well until it was brought to my attention that I had overlooked young Joey, and that he hadn’t batted. As we were already taking the field I informed all concerned that we would just bat Joey at the beginning AND at the end of the second inning, and everybody was cool with that. Joey is a quiet kid. He is also the youngest and smallest kid on the team, but he can play. When the top of the second rolled around, Joey was seeking out a helmet and a bat, and I stage whispered to the kids on the bench that what they did for Bailey might be kinda cool to do for Joey. By the time Joey and I got to the batters box, the third base side of the field had erupted in the chant of “JOE-ey! JOE-ey! JOE-ey!” Looking somewhat BMOC-ish, Joey grinned at me and said “Oh boy!” before rapping a single to third.

That was all the encouragement the Bobbleheads needed. The rest of the inning was peppered with spontaneous chants for every kid from when they walked to the tee, til they hit the ball.
“SE-bast-YUN! SE-bast-YUN!”
“Han-NAH! Han-NAH!”
“MAHL-lee! MAHL-lee!”
“Ray-CHEL! Ray-CHEL!”
“Bay-LEE! Bay-LEE!”

There was a slight pause as our number six hitter came to the plate, as the lack of rhythm in “Wiiiiiiiil! Wiiiiiiiil!” sort of threw them for a loop, but they recovered nicely for “ANGE-gel!” “KEIR-nan!,” “Ti-ah-ZA!” and “JOE-ey!” one more time.

All in all, Diary, it was a great night. We played well, looked great, sounded awesome.

The kids were happy, the adults seemed impressed. And we helped the SIBAC Twins learn a few things. Like pre-game calisthenics are a must, especially frog hopping and then group running of the bases. They now know that wrapping up each inning with a home run is cool, too. It took them awhile to remember to give high fives at first and third, but they finally got that down pretty well. They still seemed puzzled when we applauded them at the beginning and the end of the game, and they need some work on their game-end glove slapping. They also had to be re-assembled quickly for the traditional high-five line of congrats after the game, but they did quickly come up with their own cheer. Now Diary, I know I am biased, but to be honest with you, “Tee-ball rules!” just doesn’t have quite the same panache as “Gooooooo Bobbleheads!”

Bobbleheads rock. Wait, I take that back. We bobble!

Goodnight Diary.

 

05/23/02
Dear Diary:

Please pardon the indulgence.

I’ve been thinking a lot about shirts this spring. The new Bobbleheads tee-shirts, bright red with bold white lettering across the chests; the wide eyes of recognition when the kids got them – “Hey! They even have numbers on the back!” I remember thinking briefly, that wouldn’t be such a bad shirt to have for a grown up.

Apparently, I am not alone.

At least a couple of parents have inquired about getting one, and we have even had a couple of Baseball Diary readers who have expressed an interest. Then on Tuesday night I walked into the park building to check out a tee and some bases, and was confronted by Sarah of the park staff. “Hey coach! We hear you guys are going to order big Bobbleheads shirts! I want one!” Turns out other park staff does too, including Katie the Park Manager. “Everybody loves ‘em,” she told me. “What can I say? You guys picked a really cool name!” Dale the park equipment guy called St. Mane sporting goods, and if we have enough interest we can get the shirts for the big kids at about eleven-bucks a pop. Bobblehead mania; coming soon to a torso near you.

Goodnight, Diary.

05/29/02
Dear Diary:

Sometimes life just happens, and we’re the better for it. Such was tonight’s Bobbleheads adventure.

Our scheduled opponents from Corcoran Park never showed up. Their coach had called Katie the Park Director yesterday telling her that this might happen, and she had cautioned me last night at practice. Having been forewarned, we arrived at Sibley #5 tonight with two alternatives to keep our charges occupied and to give them a suitable challenge as well.

5:45 arrived and no Corcoraners to be found. I announced to the assembled eight kids and nineteen moms, dads, grandparents and friends that as we were apparently opponent-less, but that I had come armed with plans B & C, just in case this had happened. Plan B was to take whatever Corcoran kids showed up, mix ‘em with ours and split into two teams. Now as our eight were the only ones on hand, 4-on-4 didn’t seem like a real enthralling idea, so after discussing it with fill-in coach (and team dad) Tom and getting his thumbs up, I proposed plan C:

The Bobbleheads versus their parents.

To their credit, the moms and dads were game; nobody had to be coerced, and most seemed genuinely enthused by the idea. The Bobbleheads themselves seemed mostly bemused by the prospect. All of them save young Keirnan, who ambled up to me after the announcement that plan “C” was a go and said, “Coach, don’t you have a plan ‘D’?!”

Coach Tom and I had decided that the Bobbleheads would let the parents bat first, and we took our spots in the field. It seemed that most of the kids were trying not to laugh at the parents coming up to bat, which was hard because some of them looked pretty funny squeezed into those smallish batting helmets. In all three moms, four dads, and one grandma batted – in a few instances escorted on their jaunts around the bases by younger Bobblehead siblings. Much whooping and hollering was heard from the parent’s bench, so we knew they were really into it.

It occurred to me midway through the top of the first that the ages of five, six and seven were good ones for watching parents (try to) play tee-ball. The looks of pride on the faces of each Bobblehead as his or her mom or dad (or grandma) hit the ball, ran to a base or thrust out arms in exultation upon reaching a base were the equal of any similar looks those same parents have had for their kids over the past month.

I spent the night stationed as the third base coach for Bobbleheads on offense and on defense, where I was privileged to overhear some of the great asides of the night.

Such as Rachel’s “Oh there’s my dad, he’s gonna do something goofy.” And showing mild disappointment when he didn’t. There was Keirnan’s repeated plea “Can’t you find a plan D?” Add in Joey’s mile wide grin when both his mom and his dad were on base simultaneously, Hannah’s incessant giggling, Bailey’s “Wow, my MOM!” when she got a hit, and Mali’s shear awe and pride at his grandmother gamely batting and running to first.

I personally declare plan ‘C’ a success. To use a common phrase from our household, “Hey, we’re making memories here!”

So to a red-shirted kid, the Bobbleheads as beamed with pride as moms and dads hit and ran with aplomb, shook their heads in disbelief when they missed catches and throws in Three Stooges-like grandeur while in the field, and just generally hammed it up. No petulance about “parental embarrassment,” no kid telling mom or dad to get off the field, nobody getting mad. Just the shared sheer joy of watching moms and dads goof off a little.

Now that’s tee-ball the Bobblehead way.

Good night, Diary

Us
(PS: Just between you and me I really don’t think Keirnan wanted a “Plan D.”)

autographed bat2

 

Thursday night, June 6, 2002. Late.
Dear Diary:

An era came to an end Thursday night. This probably goes against most any dictionary definition of the term era, but where the Bobbleheads are concerned, that’s kind of how this six-week season felt. This was one special group of kids and parents, Diary.

We said our goodbyes at the season-end potluck for the two tee-ball and two four-pitch teams from Sibley. Eight of our nine stalwarts showed up – and Bailey’s folks stopped by with a thank-you card and a gift certificate for the Coaches Lucker on their way home from the doctor where they had found out that Bailey had strep. They didn’t bring him in, but I went out to see the poor guy in his car seat. He was looking pretty rough until I gave him his participation ribbon and certificate and his sheet of Official Bobblehead Cards.

Bobblehead Cards are way cool, Diary.

Rachel’s dad Dan had brought his digital camera to our last game, and he took action pictures of the squad. Then with the help of his trusty computer, he whipped up a great set of baseball cards – just like real ones, with team name, player names & numbers and great shots of the Bobbleheads in action. Then he printed them all up in glorious color and stuck ‘em in three-hole punched plastic sleeves like real card collectors use. Each kid (and Amy and I) got a set and man, you should’ve seen their faces!

Thanks, Rachel’s Dad!

I don’t know that I have ever been tempted to apply the word noble to a bunch of five, six and seven-year olds – but these guys certainly were that. Never had to scold anyone of them in six weeks of practice or games; never an admonition to stop something, never an altercation amongst the kids themselves. They came every week; they came to play every week. They showed joy in the game, glee in each other. And dang, Diary – they could play! They could all hit like crazy. Heck, everybody batted 1.000 with multiple home runs.

We will remember the way the girls played the field (so to speak.) Week in, week out Angel, Hannah and Rachel all made great plays defensively. Kiernan and Sebastian can also flash some mean leather. Bailey was everywhere, every game – smiling ear-to-ear every minute he was on the field. Will’s love of leading calisthenics was matched only by his ease at being distracted by crawling bugs and other stuff in the infield dirt. He misses a lot of plays, but he sees more of things and life than most. And you gotta love Joey and Mali, the two youngest, two littlest guys we had – and with two of the biggest hearts on any diamond, anywhere. It wasn’t lost on me that the name chanting for batters by their teammates from the bench started with a spontaneous, enthusiastic focus on Joey and Mali.

At the end of the potluck we coaches each got to introduce our team and hand out their ribbons and certificates. I explained to the crowd our penchant for high-fives every time a kid got to first, third or home. We got in one last high-five as each kid came up to get their stuff and then we ended our team turn in the spotlight with one final group crouch leading up to a cacophonous “Goooooooooooo Bobbbbbbleheads!!!” I personally will admit to a couple of tears, and could rat out more than a few parents who were dabbing at their own eyes.

Funny what you’ll get from a bunch of tee-ball playing kids.

That’s it for now, Diary. See you next year.

Us

bobblehead bat

May, 2016.
Dear Diary

Epilog.

Alas, there was no ‘next year’ as we moved out-of-town. While I do know at least one set of our parents went on to spread the Bobblehead gospel at another south Minneapolis park, save for my own son, I have no idea where any of these kids are now, but I’d like to think that somewhere, deep down inside each one of them, at least a little bit of the joy of being a Bobblehead still remains.

Because man…could those kids play ball.

autographed ball2

First letter to a new grandson

It’s hard to believe it has been four years since I first penned the missive below.  But it has been. My grandson Felix turns four on Tuesday. In looking back over my initial thoughts at this wondrous event…well, not much has changed. Except everything has.  All for the good. Time flies, and flying with Felix?  That is not flying – it is soaring.  Happy birthday, dude.
Love,
Grandpa Mark

*    *    *    *

11/18/2011

Dear Felix:

First off, let me welcome you to this wild, wonderful world. Yeah, it has issues – always has and always will. Maybe as time goes by, you’ll be one of the ones fixing the problems. Still, it’s a great place to hang for the next century or so. Make it count for something.

Your parents have been really amazing awaiting your arrival – later than predicted as it may have been. Though you were something of a surprise, they have embraced you from the get-go with more gusto than I would have thought, and we are quite proud of them.

That gusto and clarity of purpose says a lot about both of them. They have been very impressive. Let this be your first  life lesson from grandpa: don’t under estimate people…especially the ones you love.

Your parents are really quite remarkable, both as individuals and as a couple. Your mom is my daughter, so I obviously know her very well. She’s pretty cool, and she chose well when she chose your dad – he is very cool, too. I take a fair amount of pride in her making that choice, though I can take absolutely no credit for it. Pride in your kids is something special to experience, Felix; pride in your parents is a wonderful gift, and I hope you have, hold and treasure it.

You’ll come to love them both as much as we all do, more so, in fact. I’m sure it  took you all of about, oh, say twenty-five seconds, once you got past that where-the-heck-am-I entrance-disorientation.

Felix, you are being born into a theatrical clan; your mom your dad are true theatre geeks, just as I was and as my father was – though neither my father or I have or had the depth and breadth of the passion that your parents do. Along with that passion comes a whole unique cadre of like-sentiment folks that are your parent’s friends and peers and that are eagerly waiting to embrace you. Let them.

You have grandparents to whom you are the first such member of your new family generation. They will attempt to spoil you. Allow them the privilege. Being first also means you will be a leader of your generation. When the time comes, lead with purpose, compassion and a sense of humor.

You have two teenage uncles who are also eagerly looking forward to getting to know you. They have favorite toys and movies and loads of life experience they want to eventually share with you; they plan on showing you the ropes, and how to be a guy. They’re both pretty good at that in some very different ways, so let them teach you what they know. Someday you’ll be able to tell them “Its okay, fellas – I got this” and fly solo. But in the meantime, take advantage of every moment of them that you can. And always keep their numbers on speed-dial.

Their old wooden trains and blocks (Will and Sam aren’t that old, so the paint is safe and all) are boxed and handy for when the time comes. Low-tech, I know, but I can’t wait for the day when they show you how to fit together those train tracks, and stack a few primary color squares and rectangles. They can’t wait, either.

I know; in time. We’ll get there. Let’s get started with some grandfatherly advice and stuff you need to know:

First of all, have faith. Need proof that there is a God? He has blessed us with you, your mom and your dad. Proof that God also has a sense of humor? He has blessed you with all the rest of us.

Remember to say ‘I love you’ frequently – to pretty much everyone. And mean it.

You can be tough and be gentle, often simultaneously. It is not as difficult as some would lead you to believe.

Roll with what you’ve got, improvise when you need to. Admire the finished product no matter how cumbersome it looks or functions.

Oh, your mother hates The Princess Bride. We’ll have to watch it at our house.

Moving on….

There is a popular phrase about not being constrained in life, and living in the moment: ‘Dance like no one is watching.’ It’s good advice that, as your grandfather, I heartily endorse. Even if, like yours truly, your dancing looks more like a man being attacked by a swarm of bees than it does dancing, pretend nobody is watching…and then dance even harder when you know that people are watching.

While we’re on the topic, there was a very popular song a few years back by Lee Ann Womack, called  I Hope You Dance. The song includes these lines:

“I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean;
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens…
promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,
and when you get the choice to sit it out or dance,
I hope you dance…”

Amen to all of the above sentiment, kid. I really hope you don’t sit out too much in life, and that you’ll always try to dance. And sing, too. Maybe you could use a more contemporary take: treat life-like every day is commando-karaoke.

Okay, as metaphors go, that last one may need some work. But its good practice now to start realizing that not every pearl of wisdom you get from me is going to be fully cultured.

While we’re on the topic of music, there are some songs you should know, and I’ll try to teach them to you. (Your dad is the musician; he’ll be able to take you places with music I never could. Enjoy that ride.) That being said, there are best learned as grandpa/grandson duets and CD singalongs. Puff the Magic Dragon, for one, Marvelous Little Toy for another, and Where Have All The Flowers Gone? Oh, and The Unicorn. Your uncle Sam likes really that one, so I’ll try to get my Irish dialect back on track for you so we can all do it up right. We may have to turn that duet into a trio act.

About music. Someday when we’re driving in the car, I can see the family rule about the driver choosing the radio station or CD getting bent for you, especially once you start riding shotgun. It’ll be your call, of course, but it would be nice if you developed a taste for the 1960’s. Your mom really likes The Monkees, and other good stuff from my era, and she also shares my affinity for The Rat Pack; Frank, Dean, Sammy. I think you are genetically predisposed to some Sinatra-coolness factor anyway so it should work out. Cross-generational music appreciation is something we are definitely used to and in favor of in this family. Savor it.

Your dad has a wide range in musical tastes, so you’re likely to experience a lot, musically. Take it all in…from all of us. But always march to your own drum beat.

But you know, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if you decided you liked jazz…and The Beatles. We can work it out as you get a little older.

I do have one inviolate music-in-the-vehicle rule; there are certain songs that you cannot change stations or tracks during, or turn the car off on…EV-VER. Hey Jude and Let it be are on that short list along with Turn, Turn, Turn. And, of course, American Pie. If we are just getting home from somewhere and we hear Don McLean start in with the opening trill “A long, long time ago…” on the radio, we will circle the block twelve times if need be to get in all 8:14 of American Pie.  Deal with it.

Felix, don’t ever be afraid to ask for help or advice; the world is not always a do-it-yourself-at-all-costs endeavor. There is strength in numbers…and usually better stories to tell and people to share them with once it’s over. Share the experiences of life.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be independent, far from it. But here is a little secret you should know: the best kind of independence comes from self-assurance, and self-assurance comes from the confidence to know yourself and your own limitations and know that there will always be others who have knowledge and expertise you can utilize. Seeking out the counsel of others is a sign of strength, not weakness. Anyone who tells you otherwise has little of the former, tons of the latter. Ignore them.

By the way; although the lesser version is generally palatable, real cheesecake is made with ricotta cheese, not cream cheese.

‘Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer – so every once in a while you can surprise them with a big, sloppy smooch on the cheek.’  That’s a grandpa paraphrase. You may encounter the original version; mine is more…functional.

Another popular adage you might hear is “Eighty percent of life is simply showing up.” Now while I mostly see the value in that, I think the advice I have given your mother for years is even more applicable to life in general: “Be good…or at least be prompt.”

Oh yeah. Your mother (and probably the rest of us) will periodically and inadvertently introduce you to the growing and evolving thesaurus that are ‘Luckerisms’ – our family’s own, rather unique set of catch phrases and interjections for all occasions. For example, by the time you are old enough to understand what a ringing phone is, you’ll have also learned the correct thing to yell out across the house in response. (“Somebody get that – it might be a phone call!”) When riding in the car with your mother and stuck behind someone at a stop light, you’ll also learn something about traffic light colors most people don’t ever  think about. (“Only one shade of green in this town, buddy!”) Like I said, it’s a thesaurus not a mimeographed handout.

“Oh yeah, baby grandma.” That one will someday be explained to you by Will and/or Sam.

I hope you are able to blaze your own trail to the things that satisfy you in life. I’ll try to be supportive, even when and if I don’t understand where exactly it is you’re coming from. Hey, it’ll happen. But I’m always open to trying new things and different points of view. Hopefully you will be, too.

Dude; spontaneity rocks.

Another key item: people will always think they know what’s best for you, even when they don’t. Follow your gut instincts.

While we’re talking about self-awareness, don’t ever confuse bravado with taking a stand on principle. You can always be Don Quixote. Just make sure you have a fully capable Sancho Panza along for the journey, someone you can always count on to come up with sharpened lance and a well-rested mule.

Inspire loyalty.

You’ll always need some down time along the way. When you’re not blasting your way through life, you should know that porch swings and reclining chairs are great venues for grandpas and grandsons and sharing things. Things like sunsets and summer evenings, fall afternoons and spring rains, a cold Coke or some sweet tea, good books and chats about…stuff. Guys stuff and, you know, other stuff. Porch swings and recliners are also excellent stuff-contemplation vehicles.

Of course, Coke…not Pepsi.

Recliners are especially good places to hang and watch and listen.

Music of all kinds. A Prairie Home Companion, CNN, Turner Classic Movies. The Marx Brothers, Spongebob Squarepants and all three Toy Story movies. The original Star Wars trilogy. Rocky and Bullwinkle, the Three Stooges, Davey and Goliath. A little Vivaldi is nice sometimes, as are sports. Baseball, football and hockey, to be sure. Basketball only if you insist. Hey, it’ll still be my recliner.

Recliners and porch swings are also the best spots for stories that we can make up on our own. And also good spots for a choice a corned beef sandwich on good rye bread. With mustard. (Just needed to fit that sandwich in here somewhere.)

By the way, porch swings are very neat places to hang out and take naps on during rainy days – with or without a grandpa. Better with, but that’s one of those you can also savor on your own whenever you get the chance. While naps on rainy days are great, walks in the rain might just be greater. We will have to go on some rainy-day quests for the perfect puddle.

And, contrary to what your mother (and my mother and  most any mother says) puddles are cool. So is mud.

Porch swings are also good locales for learning the finer points of brief literature: limericks, haikus…nursery rhymes the ‘Lucker Way.’ When the time comes your mother can explain what Old Mother Hubbard really went to that cupboard for and I’ll take it from there.

Along with porch swings and reclining chairs, there’s a lot to be said for small boats. Fishing ranks right up there as a good stuff-sharing and story-telling time. Fishing is also one of the few times in life when people expect you to fib just a little bit. Take advantage of such times with nature, and always keep in mind it’s called ‘fishing’ and not ‘catching’ for good reason.

Speaking of fishing, there is another piece of homemade advice I distribute fairly freely. ”Always strive to be like the biggest, fattest bass in the lake – know when to not take the bait.”

Restraint and that whole gut-instinct thing come into play here. You’ll figure it out.

There are a few secret wishes I have for you; I hope you like baseball. And going camping. And pizza. Annnnd…cheeseburgers. Not the lame, limp, fast food variety but some top quality, inch-thick, pressed-by-hand, fresh-off-a-grill cheeseburgers. And be creative with the cheese, Felix; there is far more to life than just processed American. Taste it all.

And somewhere along the line you’ll get to learn and taste a little something my grandfather taught me many years ago; the joy of dipping a sugar cube into a cup of coffee, then sucking the coffee back out of it. Mmmm-mmmm. You’ll find it’s the little things, Felix, that make life so special.

In closing, you should know that as you grow up you’ll hear many wild and wacky stories about your family. If they sometimes sound too outrageous to be true…you’re probably being too much of a skeptic. Embrace your familial eccentricities. Grow with them. You’ll learn to love them and those us who possess them. A little head shaking in disbelief is okay – as long as you keep smiling through it and don’t ever do it with disdain.

Single best advice I can give you, Felix? Hang out with grandpa whenever you can, for as long as you can. You’ll learn stuff. But I’ll learn so much more and you’ll teach me. It’ll be exciting for both of us.

We’ll start to get to know each other soon, the rest we’ll work out as we go.

Oh, and have somebody print this missive out and put it in a ring binder for you. We’ll be adding to it as time goes by. ;-{)

This will soon be old hat

oldworld4I am feeling rather old-world these days. Not OLD, mind you, but old world. My twenty-seven-month-old grandson Felix has taken to calling me ‘Papa.’ He calls his other grandpa ‘Papa’ as well, though he does differentiate between the two of us by referring to my wife and I as “Papa and Gigi’ – Gigi being the sobriquet that she has gone by since Felix was just a little guy.

I don’t mind the moniker; it just is not one I ever envisioned for myself.

‘Papa’ seems very old-world, European to me – which, considering my ancestral mix of Russian Jews and Norwegians, makes sense. Felix is, apparently, an old soul.

MG6 03 02 14 C2This Papa thing came about purely by accident, after I had posted the picture of myself  (left) on Facebook, following a full day of  New Orleans Mardi Gras parade festivities. My daughter got the notification, showed Felix the picture, then posted his response:  ‘To which Felix exclaimed…”Its PAPA!…..and HAT!!!”

FelixFBprofpic

 

 

The first time I had heard/seen the ‘Papa’ designation from him.

I don’t – or at least, I didn’t – see myself as a ‘Papa.’ Grandpa is great; Gramps would be fine, as that’s what my I called mine – the only grandfather I ever knew, my mother’s father. Granddad was always a possibility as well. But ‘Papa’ had never entered my solo, silent deliberations on the topic.

The resemblance is, well, there. "If I were a rich man..."
The resemblance is, well, there. “If I were a rich man…”

But once I started to think about it…

Of the old world Papas I could think of, the first two images that sprang to mine fit our (Felix and I) shared heritage. First there is Tevye, of Fiddler on the Roof fame, and also Leif Ericson, the famous Norwegian explorer. Tevya, Leif and I all spring from hearty stock, and are known for rugged hirsute-centered handsome natures. (Okay, Tevye is a fictional character. But Topol, the actor who portrayed him the most, is still going strong and is still a bit old world.)

“And hat!” Mazel Tov.

"Explore far-of lands? Moved to New Orleans from Minnesota, didn't i?"
“Explore far-of lands? Moved to New Orleans from Minnesota, didn’t i?”

Yes, of the Papas I could come up with, all were exciting, dynamic guys with well-known facial hair…and very prominent hats. I get where Felix is coming from.

While both Tevye and Leif are definitely ‘old world’ Papa-types, their respective headgear translates differently. I could, in today’s world wear Tevye’s milkman hat and not look at all out-of-place. Not as jauntily as Topol, perhaps, but I could pull it off.  Leif’s battle helmet would be another matter. Although, I do live in New Orleans. Metal headgear would not be the strangest sight seen around these parts.

“And hat!”

Interestingly, the other Papas I conjured up I also share top-and-bottom-of-head similarities with. Famed novelist Ernest ‘Papa’ Hemingway, for one.

Interestingly, I recently completed one of those online ‘discover your writing soulmate’ quizzes onhemhat2 hemhat3 Facebook…and got Hemingway as my ‘writing soulmate.’ Interesting, no?  Though Hemingway did have a strange thing for weird, cowl-neck sweaters. I couldn’t pull that off…but berets, wide-brimmed Panamas and pith helmets? Hell yeah!

Then there was Papa Noel and Papa Smurf – both noted for what resides at the opposite poles of their skulls, both red on top, white on bottom. Not my style, really. Those two may be pushing it a bit anyway. FYI: Papa Bear and Papa John Phillips did not make the list for various reasons.papasmurf papanoel

“And hat!”

Felix had seen my Mardi Gras  jester’s hat before, a week or so before Mardi Gras. During a Skype session in which he was goofily showing off his array of winter hats, I told him I had a hat as well, grabbing mine and modeling it. His response at the time was a vigorous head shake and a concerned, plaintive, drawn-out “Nooooo…”

It was obvious he didn’t much care for the hatting of our Skype session. Or maybe he just didn’t like the hat competition, me – me horning in on his hat spotlight. Either way, it’s okay. Felix likes his hats, winter and otherwise, including a straw fedora. He is one hip dude.

"Look, ma! No hats!"
“Look, ma! No hats!– me horning in on his hat spotlight. Either way, it’s okay. Felix likes his hats, winter and otherwise, including a straw fedora. He is one hip dude.

The more I roll it over in my head, I’m liking ‘Papa’ more and more, especially since I have plenty of hat-wearing papas in whose footsteps I can follow. I think we can work with this, Felix. I really do.

I’ll talk to you soon and we can discuss further, compare chapeaus.

Love,

Papa

And Hat.

Firsts and Foremosts

Quite an eventful week around the ol’ Lucker Hacienda.

The excitement began last Saturday evening with the arrival in New Orleans of grandson Felix, all the way from Minnesota – with his mom and dad in tow, of course. Saturday also happened to be the lad’s first birthday, though his arrival was more a gift for us as we hadn’t seen him (save our periodic Skype sessions) since last Christmas.

Suffice to say, he has grown up quite a bit.

Now an active, verbal-and-at-times-forcefully-so toddler, Master Felix has an engaging smile and personality – and energy to burn. After a two-day car jaunt, Felix was in pretty good spirits, but was a little apprehensive about these grandpa/grandma folks. But after a good night’s rest and a little more familiarity, he readily came to his grandpa – for short stints. By Sunday evening he was eagerly hanging with grandpa and/or grandma. Uncles Will and Sam, too.

On Monday, mom and dad headed out to do some sightseeing in the French Quarter, leaving Felix in our care. Utilizing a nifty all-terrain stroller borrowed from friends, we (Felix, me, Grandma Amy, Uncle Sam) took a two-mile walk, picking up Sadie from the groomers before heading back home.

This greatly pleased Felix, as he and Sadie had become best buds almost immediately upon his arrival. Seeing roughly eye-to-eye, Felix and Sadie made an immediate connection and decided that each was pretty cool. Sadie (a.k.a ‘The Big Floppy Dog’) is a very easy going, 61 pound-canine who loves attention. When that attentiveness comes from a one year old who likes to hug, tug and pat on her back with both hands – all the better, apparently.  Aside from the fact that Sadie is a licker who loves to go for the human face at every opportunity and that Felix attempts to reciprocate, the bonding of boy and dog has been a real joy. My favorite sight is when Sadie is

“Belly up to the Sadie bar, boys”.

just standing there, and Felix walks up and puts both his hands on Sadie’s back and they both just stand there. I call it Felix’s belly-up-to-the-(canine)-bar pose

The far less laid-back (energetic still at 10.5 years) Lucy the rat terrier has also been the beneficiary of Felix’s affections, but she doesn’t sit still long enough to partake much – though she does show her jealous side when Sadie is getting allllll the attention. No matter Lucy’s flightiness, the ‘Big Fwoppy Dog’ follows and flops with Felix on an ongoing basis.

It’s not just fun time for Felix here in New Orleans.

When announcing plans for their Thanksgiving/birthday jaunt to see us some months ago, I pseudo-sternly informed daughter Lindsay, “Now if you think you guys can just blow into town, leave Felix with us and go off gallivanting around New Orleans on your own…you’re absolutely correct”!

And they have done some of that from time to time (a shopping trip here, a lunch date there) but not without some slight separation anxiety which has been easily overcome by responding to mom-texts with a curt ‘O.K.’ or ‘We’re fine’.

Hey, this may be our first grandchild, but this aint our first rodeo, as they say.

A few weeks before Felix and family were set to arrive some friends of ours who have a ‘weekend getaway’ condo (‘Condeaux’ in the local vernacular) in the French Quarter graciously offered it to us for them to use for a night or two during their stay. The place is small but incredibly charming (think antiquated, 150-plus year old building with old brick and adobe, gaslights in a courtyard charm and then quadruple it) and apparently the old slave quarters of the original home, but is now a fine mix of old world magic and modern amenities.

I informed Lindsay of our friend’s gracious offer a week before their trip, and she was excited for the opportunity, duly noting that it would be their first full night away from Felix, and hoping/warning that we were/should be ready for whatever that might bring.

We got this.

Their stay was set for Tuesday night, and we would drop them off and get them settled so as not to have to worry about parking or other logistical issues. A nice deal for all concerned…but there was a twist to the plan.

On Sunday Brad accompanied me as I drove to pick up the borrowed stroller, and the conversation quickly took a uniquely curious turn, as Brad informed me he was going to propose to Lindsay, and asked for my quasi ‘approval’, which was immediately and gladly given. He then went on to tell me how this had been in the offing for a while, and that hearing Lindsay tell of the condo-in-the-Quarter opportunity just made the plans all come together.

Serendipitous, it was.

So the simple evening get away turned into something much more (successfully, I might add; she did say ‘yes’) for all concerned. A memorable and romantic evening in the Quarter for Lindsay and Brad, a fun and mostly uneventful night for Felix alone with grandpa and grandma. A visit to see the Christmas lights on nearby Harrison Avenue followed by a trip to Creole Creamery for some yummy small-batch ice cream: caramel apple pie for Felix and I and grandma’s red velvet cake that he also got to partake.

To our friends the Petersons, as they say in the theatre, “Thanks for the use of the hall”.

An interesting sidebar: when going to pick up Lindsay and Brad at the condeaux  I had to park around the corner. While walking to their door, I noticed one of New Orleans ubiquitous bronze plaque historical markers (the city is older than the country, remember) on a neighboring building. Stopping to read it as I usually do, I found that the home there was owned by Tennessee Williams. As Lindsay and Brad are both theatre buffs, and as Lindsay once played Stella in a production of Streetcar Named Desire, the discovery added a nice finishing touch to the whole affair.

More than serendipitous, I think.

This has been a week of a lot of firsts with Felix: first stroller walk, first Christmas lights, first ice cream, first overnight stay with grandpa and grandma. We have also had quiet just-Felix-and-grandpa time early morning; have a little breakfast, drink some coffee, cruise the Internet. Just us. Felix also got his first Tonka truck this week – the big dump truck. A little overkill, I’ll admit…but a boy’s first Tonka truck should be a good one. A big one. From grandpa and grandma.

And much to my great enjoyment we shared grandpa’s traditional Thanksgiving morning breakfast: coffee (milk for Felix) and a steaming bowl of freshly made sausage turkey stuffing (don’t worry – there is plenty left to cram in the bird). I’m sure there are more firsts to come as his week here winds down.

So now here we are about to celebrate Thanksgiving, and it’s Will’s seventeenth birthday, to boot. And Will provided us with a milestone of the non-Felix variety yesterday when he drove the family to Winn-Dixie for our pre-Thanksgiving shopping trip, his first trip as a permitted driver. Seventeen Thanksgivings ago we were hospital bound with the month-premature Willi Newman Lucker; now a goatee-clad driver of the family grocery-getter.

Plenty of thankfulness to go around.

For family. For Will, for Sam, for Felix, Lindsay and Brad. For my wife Amy. For friends and family. For mom, who celebrated ten years of being cancer-free this year. For difficult but gratifying employment. For good friends. I could go on.

In the Lucker household, the day has little to do with football or ‘black Friday’ sale plans. Except that maybe Felix and I can do some of our first football watching. After he gets a crack at his first turkey drumstick, after we find his first wishbone…

Thankfulness in abundance.

“Yes, we have no bananas”. But we do have the trees.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HygopC4S5W0    I am always on the lookout for good deals, and while driving around New Orleans one early August Sunday, I spied a potted palm tree sitting on a curb with a sign that said ‘Free Banana Palm.’

Deals don’t get much better than that.

A palm tree to decorate for Christmas is something my wife had an expressed an interest in, but while they are in plentiful supply in these parts, they are rather pricey. (O.K: in the interest of full disclosure, since moving here, she has wanted an inflatable palm tree to put Christmas lights on. But for me, why go plastic when you get the real thing?) I had been periodically hunting for a palm, but the ones I had located for free on Craigslist were in the 15-20 foot tall range and were free “if you remove it”. As I am more lumberjack than catch-and-release arborist, this was an option I had passed on numerous times.

Free, in a large pot, was right up my alley. Well, somebody else’s street, actually.

As I couldn’t get the thing into my van solo, I returned home, put our trailer-hitch platform on the van, and recruited my sons, aged 13 and 16 to help capture the beast in the wild and return it home for transplanting in our front yard.

Let’s just say, at first glance the boys were…dubious. Said thirteen year old Sam, “And we want this thing because…?”

But after some rather, uhh, creative, sweat-inducing tree wrangling, we got the vaunted (and heavy) potted banana palm home. Actually, it turned out to be four banana palms; the big one in the center of the pot, and three smaller sprouts in varying stages of growth. This was an even better deal! Four for the price of free, save a little sweat equity. Added bonus: some other funky, sub-tropical flowers had also taken root in the pot. Sweet!

Once home, my wife shared the doubtful look her sons had donned just a few minutes before upon meeting the tree(s). Nonetheless, within a couple of days I had the big palm from the center of the pot transplanted on the boulevard in front of our house, and was then immediately confronted by family members all asking the same question: “Why’d you plant THAT one?”

Though the largest, most mature of the four, the one I chose to transplant looks a little worse for wear. As sixteen year old Will said, “Its dead. Or about dead.” I didn’t think it that critical, as there were some new, small green shoots poking out of it. I likened it to the Christmas tree Charlie Brown and Linus bring back to the Peanuts gang in ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’ – it just needed a little T.L.C. ala Linus and his blanket.

Unconvinced looks were again shared by wife and progeny.

One key reason I planted that particular tree (besides its being the tallest) was that I thought it had the potential to rebound nicely out of the pot and actually in the ground. Plus, I planted it to fill up a hole where an old tree trunk had been decaying and sinking since Katrina took out the original tree itself. Knowing that even dead trees can have extensive root structures that can regenerate, I figured the banana palm would take root and (hopefully) thrive. Transplanting it was quick and simple, except… required being staked down just to keep it upright. I began to see that my family’s skepticism may have been justified.

Over the last month or so, we have watched that scrawny little banana palm do pretty much nothing but survive.

I trimmed off the dead and broken leaves, and the one primary leaf (yeah, singular leaf) that remained perked up a bit, but that was about it. The new little green sprouts stayed that way; new and little. But like with Charlie Brown and Linus, the little tree seemed to be growing on my own FamilyPeanuts. Jokes about its appearance were made on a fairly regular basis by sons and wife, though they were interspersed with grudging admiration for the banana palm’s tenacity. So I decided to just call it CBT (Charlie Brown tree).

Then, last week came hurricane Isaac, and a three-day evacuation for all six of us (including both dogs). Upon our return to our New Orleans neighborhood, we saw plenty of storm damage, including some very large trees that were ripped from the ground and thrown about just blocks from our house. This increased our anxiety about our home, as we had no idea what to expect. With trepidation and collective breath held, we turned onto our block…

…and there was our little banana palm, still standing, in front of our undamaged house.

Much to the amazement of Will, who’s incredulity only increased as we saw the toppled fifty-foot pine across the street that fell into our neighbors yard, “How could that stupid little thing stay standing through a hurricane?!”

How indeed, with no blue blanket wrapped around its base.

I quickly explained the whole small object/wind resistance thing using the mast of a ship analogy: with the sails down, there is little for the wind to catch, but with the sails unfurled, the wind has plenty to get hold of. (He is taking physics this semester, so he got it – at least on a scientific level.) But Will was even more shocked at the survival of CBT when he noticed the pounding our neighbor’s elephant ears plant and our whatever-it-is-I-got-from-Leslie-and-Ina’s-yard plants took.  Coleslaw on stems, basically, was what those plants were – just a few feet away . But our CBT was still hanging tough. Will just shook his head.

Now that we have been back a few days, have cleaned up the sticks and other stray debris, and since my school is still closed a few more days, I thought it would be a good time to finally swap out CBT for the more hearty of the other three still in the pot.

But CBT seems to have other ideas. The dang thing has taken root.

A tree that two weeks ago needed bracing appears to have hunkered down against Isaac and settled in for the long haul. It does not want to budge. This morning I removed the rope tethers, and it stayed standing upright. I grabbed hold of CBT and shook it; it barely wiggled. I shook it more vigorously; it stood there, defiantly.

Upon further inspection, I noticed that there is some fresh green down toward the bottom, some bark is growing back, and the leaf (yeah, still just one leaf) shredded by Isaac has started to regenerate nicely. I think CBT is gonna be A-O-K.

That still left me with another banana palm that was showing some signs of vigor now that his pot had more room, so I figured we can get him going in his own little plot of real estate and see what happens. As of today, our second little banana palm (as yet unnamed) has been transplanted a little further on down the boulevard from CBT. The new model stands at 45 inches tall as of today, but I’m willing to bet most anyone a burger at Bud’s Broiler that a month from now, on October sixth, that newly relocated banana palm will stand 55 inches tall, same height as me.

Provided we don’t get any more hurricanes.

By December, I am hoping that one of our two palm trees is hearty enough to help fulfill my goal of giving my wife a real, decorated New Orleans Christmas palm tree. So, with apologies to Joyce Kilmer:

I think my wife will have no qualm
stringing lights on her new banana palm

Below(L to R)  What my wife initially wanted to hang Christmas lights on, what we are trying to achieve, what we hope to avoid.

x

Dog Dazed of Summer

The other day we went to the beach with friends and brought our two dogs along. The north shore of Lake Ponchartrain at Louisiana’s Fontainebleu State Park is a great place to spend a hot summer’s day

We had been there before, but this was the first time we had taken the dogs.

Lucy

Lucy, our rat terrier, is the veteran of our dog team, having just celebrated her tenth birthday. We have had her since she was six months old, and she has never been much of a fan of water – getting her to wade in past ankle depth was an accomplishment. Sadie, our blue heeler-spaniel mix on the other hand, supposedly loves the water, though we had no first-hand experience. Sadie joined our household last August courtesy of some friends of ours, who needed to ‘dog downsize’ as they have health issues which made a big dog problematic for them.

Sadie

Hence, a wonderfully goofy canine addition to our family, which has really re-energized a had-become-fairly-complacent Lucy. They are great playmates and companions.

So we packed up to head to the beach with all the required accoutrements for two dogs, a mom, a dad and two teenage boys would need, adding (for good measure) eldest son’s girlfriend. We were also joined at the beach by our good friends Terri and Rae – Sadie’s previous family. We got to the beach and set up all of our stuff, Lucy curiously sniffing around the shoreline, Sadie straining her leash to get into the water.

A wonderful day was had by all. Sadie indeed, loves the water. For five solid hours, she left the lake only for a brief break at lunch time, and when being handed off to someone else, as dogs must always be on their leashes in a state park, and we had forgotten to bring her tie-down stake.

Sam on Sadie-pulled floatie; “Mush!”

Not that anchoring her to the beach would have been all that successful. Sadie spent the entire time plodding and dogpaddling the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain, pulling at one time or another, every human member of our merry little band around on our various floating devices, proudly channeling the spirits of Iditarod champions. As you can be a couple of hundred feet from shore and still be in chest deep water, Sadie had a lot of ground she could cover – and she did.

Meanwhile, while Lucy spent a considerable time in the water, she rarely got in past chin level, and when she did, her furious dog-paddle and facial expression seemed to question the sanity of all concerned. She happily spent the bulk of the day roaming the beach and lounging beneath one of our beach chairs.

Finally tuckered out after a day in the Louisiana sun, we all piled in the van for the hour-long drive home. It was an uneventful trip, and once home we immediately took the dogs into the backyard for a shower, us humans doing likewise indoors. Everyone was satisfied and relaxed.

But a few hours later, Sadie began whimpering and favoring her hindquarters. Any attempts at trying to touch her in the tail area was met with yelps and cowering; her bushy, perpetually wagging tail was curled underneath her, and she walked like a tired old dog. We could find no wounds, or any visible hint of injury, nothing was swollen. But even offering her a treat could not coax Sadie’s tail into action, though she did snarf down the offered goodies in quick order which we took as a good sign. Deciding that a visit to the E.R. vet was not needed, we decided to see how she was after a good night’s sleep

The next morning, a still-pooped pooch was actually (sort of) wagging (twitching?) her tail, though with nowhere near her usual exuberance, but she was sitting down and getting back up again a lot less gingerly, which had me thinking it far less likely that a costly visit to the vet would be in order. But to be on the safe side, I spent some of my usual early morning web surfing time to check out dogs with sprained/broken tails.

The marvels of our technological age.

“Aww, poor Sadie. Should have stayed in shade with me.”

In very short order, I learned that sprained tails are very common (the bigger the dog, the more common the ailment) and can be caused from a wide range of basic, dog like activities. I learned that big dogs quite often sprain their tails doing everything from wagging their tails too vigorously, to striking them on something (kitchen counter or furniture) while wagging, often in anticipation of a treat. But my favorite tail sprain reason? Some dogs apparently injure themselves as such simply by chasing their tail too vigorously. Finally, I learned that big dogs (Sadie is 61 pounds of pooch) that aren’t generally ‘working dogs’ are also prone to spraining their tails by simply overdoing a cherished activity.

The more I read, the more big dogs seem like middle-aged males, who have kept the Tylenol and Bengay folks in business for years by straining, pulling and bruising various bodily tissues from simply overdoing certain basic behaviors, or, as they say, having their ‘egos write checks that their bodies can’t cash.’

Just for the record, while I have at times succumbed to such physical over-enthusiasm, I have never sprained my tail doing so.

Of all the items I found (at reputable sites) on the topic, this one nailed our situation pretty well. From the ‘Ask a Vet’ column on dogster.com; “Trauma to the tail is, in my experience, the most common cause for a tail to dangle limply from its base. In these instances, strains and muscle injuries are more common than broken tails. For instance, many dogs use their tails to help them paddle when they swim. If a dog engages in an especially big day of watersports, he may wake up with a really sore tail the next day. This condition, which I affectionately call swimmer’s tail (a term that is not an official medical diagnosis), lasts a couple of days and usually resolves on its own with rest.”

Who knew?

At this writing, Sadie’s tail movement is getting better, though it is still more awkward sway than ‘Yay!’ and her model-runway swagger is more drunken-sailor stagger.

Maybe the next time we go to the lake, we’ll just rent her a kayak.