Also Known As

For most of my growing-up years, I wanted a nickname so badly it hurt.  But it never came to pass.  Not once did I ever have a proper sobriquet bestowed on me.

As one who spent a whole lot of time playing team sports, I knew countless other boys by their nicknames—Dingo, Big-Guy, Scoop, Madge (short for Magic-Man), and, rather unkindly, Lard.  When I think of them now, I can’t even remember their real names.  Nor do I picture them as the old men they surely must be; rather, I see them as they were back then—immortals, in a way.

chevy youth baseball

But I was not fated to be one of those ‘also known as’ guys.  My coaches forever called me by my surname or my jersey number.

Twelve!  You’re on deck!  Get out there!

If you are of my era, a Canadian childhood spanning the 40’s, 50’s and into the 60’s, and if you were a sports fan, you will know that our greatest heroes all had nicknames.

In basketball—the Stilt, the Big O, the Cooz, The Mailman, Pistol Pete.  In baseball—Teddy Ballgame, Joltin’ Joe, the Barber, Stan the Man, the Mick.

In football—Crazy Legs, Broadway Joe, the Deacon, Sweetness, Mean Joe.  In golf—the Squire, Slammin’ Sam, the Hawk, the King, the Golden Bear.

In hockey, my favourite of games—Mr. Zero, the Rocket, Boom-Boom, the Big M, the Roadrunner, Cujo, the Dominator, Number 4.

Female athletes, too, had nicknames, ranging across a number of sports—the Babe, Little Mo, Mighty Mouse, Tiger, Moses, the Swiss Miss, Flo Jo, the Black Widow.

nancy_green_lange_chamonix_history

[*The real names of these athletes are shown at the end of this post.]

But I never had a nickname.

At one point—desperate for a nom de guerre I could call my own, and because I was a year younger than my compadres in school and sport—I began to call myself The Kid.  I think I became a legend in my own mind.  In conversation with friends, I would say, The Kid did this…or The Kid did that…

To my chagrin, the nickname never caught on.  Nor did the practice of referring to myself in the third person, although it did garner me a lot of strange looks.

There were times during these years that I suffered the experience of being called a variety of names by others not favourably disposed towards me—loser, dork, pencil-neck, to name a few, plus some even less polite.  But those were not nicknames; proper nicknames had to be given in recognition of one’s accomplishments, talents, or character.

Sticks and stones…I would mutter quietly.  The Kid is above all that!

The closest I ever came to acquiring a nickname was at the end of my playing days, striving mightily to keep up with skaters twenty years younger than I in old-timers’ hockey.  But it wasn’t my teammates who conferred it; it was my opponents, muscling me unceremoniously along the boards.

hockey2

Outta the way, Grampaw!

Not exactly what I’d always aspired to be known as.

So, as you might expect, it has come as something of a relief to me that now, at this ripe old age, I have finally acquired a nickname I can be proud of.  Mind you, I bestowed it myself, to designate me as a ‘teller of tales tall and true’.

I am Talebender.

*Famous Athletes’ Real Names—

  • Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Bob Cousy, Karl Malone, Pete Maravich.
  • Ted Williams, Joe Dimaggio, Sal Maglie, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle.
  • Elroy Hirsch, Joe Namath, David Jones, Walter Payton, Joe Greene.
  • Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus.
  • Frankie Brimsek, Maurice Richard, Bernie Geoffrion, Frank Mahovlich, Yvan Cournoyer, Curtis Joseph, Dominik Hasek, Bobby Orr.
  • Mildred Didrikson Zaharias, Maureen Connelly, Elaine Tanner, Nancy Greene, Althea Gibson, Martina Hingis, Florence Joyner, Jeanette Lee.

 

 

While We May

It’s inevitable, I think, that many of us will ponder our lives and our place in the world as the current year draws to a close.  And we may well wonder what the impending new year will hold for us.  In the words of an old song—

…what lies ahead?/Will we have rainbows day after day?

I believe it’s a quirk of our human nature that we often fail to appreciate what we have until we no longer have it.  Many are the things that become dear to us when their very existence is threatened—things that might have received but passing notice before the threat arose.

This tendency, doubtless familiar to most of us, seems to begin early in our lives.  I’ve observed young children on numerous occasions while they were playing with their toys.  Inevitably, when someone picks up a different toy, the children immediately focus on that one as the only thing that will satisfy their needs.  The moment they can’t have it, so it appears, is the same moment they realize what a treasure it is.

This habit stays with us as we grow older.  In his classic story, Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain provides a wonderful example of what can happen when people seem to be losing something, even if they never actually possessed it.

tom sawyer

Remember the tale?  Young Tom tricks his friends into whitewashing Aunt Polly’s fence, in order to avoid the chore himself.  By presenting it to them as an opportunity available to only a select few, and one that would not last long, he duped them into a hankering for something they would normally have avoided—afraid of losing the chance to take advantage.

The quirk remains into our adult years, as well.  You’ll recognize it when, after walking around all day in a pair of new shoes, you remember how comfortable the old ones were, the ones you didn’t want anymore.  And you wish you hadn’t thrown them away.

Or you’ll know it when your grandkids come for a long-overdue visit, one you’ve been looking forward to.  And then, only a few hours after your wish is realized, you begin to pine for the peace and quiet of your everyday life.  You can’t wait ‘til it’s time for them to leave.  You’re exhausted!

You’ll experience the same feeling of loss if a power blackout strikes, and you find yourself walking from room to room, absent-mindedly flicking light switches in vain.  All that electricity you took for granted, gone!

no lights 2

There are so many things we have, not just material possessions, that we passively accept as the norm.  Not through arrogance or selfishness, necessarily, but because they seem always to be with us.  Being with us, they become accepted; having accepted, we become indifferent.

Perhaps the greatest of these unheralded treasures, as we grow older, is good health.  Most of us grew up without serious medical problems, the normal childhood ailments notwithstanding.  We accept good health as our due—to the extent that, when we do come down with something, we feel resentful and put-upon.

“I never get sick,” we complain to anyone who will listen.  “How can this be happening to me?

Some time ago, I visited our family physician because of a persistent virus that had hold of me.  While I was sitting in the waiting room, her receptionist mentioned that she’d had a devil of a time locating my file.

“I finally found it in the dead file,” she said.

“The dead file!” I exclaimed.  “Hey, I’m not that old!”

freemedicalcheckupsmall

She laughingly explained that the dead file was for patients who hadn’t had a routine physical exam during the past five years.

Five years!  I was stunned to realize I hadn’t had a checkup in all that time.  I suppose, because I was feeling just fine, I’d assumed it would always be so.  After all, good health is only what I deserve, right?  That’s how it is.

Until it isn’t.

Nowadays, as I approach the three-quarter-century mark more quickly than I would like, the advent of a brand-new year doesn’t hold the same promise for me that once it did.  I no longer wish for, or expect, endless rainbows.

I would be happy, I have discovered, to hang on to what I have.

My focus has turned to acknowledging my blessings, appreciating them more fully, and not taking them for granted.  And chief among those, I am finding, is continued good health.

good health

It behooves me, I believe, to accept the responsibility to make that happen.  While looking to whatever future awaits me, for however long, I must strive not to abuse the good health I currently enjoy.  There are elements of our North American lifestyle that are proven killers—killers even of people, such as I, who have always taken their well-being for granted.

Of course, it’s difficult to imagine that I might fall victim, for, as Edward Young wrote almost three hundred years ago—

All men think all men mortal but themselves.

But nearly four hundred years ago, Robert Herrick, wrote—

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,/Old time is still a-flying,/

And this same flower that smiles today/Tomorrow will be dying.

rosebuds

That tomorrow is but a day away.  So, today is all the time we have to protect what is, indeed, a most prized possession.  We owe it to ourselves to guard and nurture our good health.

While we may.

 

A Writer’s View

I’m occasionally asked about the art of writing by those who read my blog-posts and books, but I’m usually caught off-guard, quite unprepared to give a cogent answer.  I was better primed for an industry online interview, however—an edited transcript of which is shared in this post.

Q. What is it you enjoy most about writing?

I enjoy the freedom to do whatever I want in the first-draft stages—creating credible characters, inventing dialogue, describing events, contriving plausible story-lines.

But even more, I enjoy the rewriting, where I can change things, reconstruct situations, alter outcomes.  I love having the opportunity to shape and re-shape the fictional world I’ve created in each story—almost like a wizard, going back in time with the power to change what originally happened.

wizard

Q. What is your writing process?

I write everything down as soon as possible after it occurs to me —essays, short stories, blog-posts, episodes for my novels—sometimes in the wee, small hours of the morning when the thoughts tumbling in my brain won’t let me sleep.  Later, when the frenzy of first-draft has abated, I rewrite them to see where, or if, they fit in the overall picture.

I often spend hours on end in the process, even to the point of missing lunch or dinner.  I’m amazed when I discover that four or five hours might have passed before I paused for breath, so to speak. For me, writing is an alternate universe, one in which I easily lose myself.

Q. Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?

I remember the first story I wrote as an adult.  It was titled The Leaving, and was included in two of my published collections of tales.  It told of the conflicting joy and sadness associated with the realization that my two daughters were growing up, leaving their childhood behind.  It was predicated on a credo my wife and I adopted in their upbringing—hug them close, then let them go.  The hugging was easy, of course; the letting-go not so much.

hugging

Q. What prompted you to try writing a novel?

In the beginning, it was an attempt to answer the question as to whether or not I could do it.  And it took a long time to figure out—five years from inception to publication.  I was hoping to accomplish a number of things, the first being just to finish it; while I had been writing stories and poetry for a long time, I had never attempted a novel.

Additionally, I wanted to tell a story that would prove difficult for readers to resist.  I wanted to relate that story mainly through dialogue among the characters—in their respective voices.  I discovered, however, that the telling of some events had to be in my own narrator’s voice.  I also wanted to create convincing characters in whom readers might invest—little knowing at the time that I would become so attached to two of them that a series would follow.  They feel like friends now—to the point where, rather than creating their story in each successive book, I’ve come to feel like I’m simply recording it as it unfolds.

Q. How many books have you published?

To my astonishment, there are five novels now: By Precept and Example, 2007; Until He Killed Her, 2010; Lockdown, 2012; First Do No Harm, 2015; and the most recent, Missing and Murdered, 2017.  Each of the stories is told against a backdrop of contemporary events taking place at the time of publication.

9 Missing cover

There are also three books of collected stories: On Top of the Grass: Tales of a Snowbird in Florida, 2008; It Matters to Me: Tales of a Young Father, 2010, and The Passing Parade: Tales of a Bemused Bystander, 2017.

All the books can be found, in print or e-book formats, at a number of locations, including http://www.amazon.ca and http://www.barnesandnoble.ca.  They are also available online at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/precept.

Q. What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on a sixth novel in the Maggie Keiller/Derek Sloan crime series, and I hope to have a fourth collection of tales, Tall and True: Tales of a Peripatetic Blogger, published in 2018.

Q. When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

I spend a lot of time reading—more, perhaps, than writing.  And I sing bass with an a capella men’s chorus, Harbourtown Sound, which is both enjoyable and time-consuming.  The chorus website is http://www.harbourtownsound.ca/.

hts

I also try to stay active in golf, tennis, cycling, swimming, and other physical pursuits.

Q. Who are your favorite authors?

There are several, including John D. MacDonald, James Lee Burke, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Elmore Leonard, John Sandford, and Randy Wayne White—all of whom write in my preferred genre. I also enjoy authors from different genres—Bill Bryson, Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Winston Churchill, to name a few.

 

It Matters to Me

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

From as far back as I can remember, the Christmas season has always been my favourite.  And it’s true even more now, in my mid-seventies, than it was as a child.

When I stop to think about the reasons for that, I suppose it has to do with the different meanings that Christmas has for me.  Although I can think of many, there are three significant beliefs that stick out.

…with the kids jingle-belling, and everyone telling you, “Be of good cheer…”

None of the three has anything to do with the endless sparring between the commercial and religious aspects of the season—where we find Santa Claus in every shopping mall, serenaded by traditional carols blasted over a tinny sound system.  Or coming to town on a huge sleigh pulled by plastic reindeer.  Were I to dwell on that, the whole season would be spoiled.

santa 2

Neither are my feelings affected by the view of Christmas as a pagan festival, the embodiment of which is old St. Nick, rather than as a true celebration of the birth of Christ.  For me, the two concepts are not mutually exclusive.

It’s the hap-happiest season of all…

As a matter of fact, Santa Claus is one of the things I like best about Christmas.  For the record, I still believe in him.  Every Christmas—under the somewhat curious stare of my grandchildren, who are all sophisticated now to the point of pretending to pretend—I hang up my stocking, just as I have for more than seventy years.

“Gramps, you don’t still believe in Santa, do you?” my youngest granddaughter asks.  She watches me closely as I frame a reply.

“Sure do,” I say.  “I mean, I don’t know if there really is a Santa Claus, but it’s more fun to act as if there is.  Believing in Santa is one of the things that make Christmas so much fun.”

stocking

I don’t know if she agrees with me, but it’s reassuring to note that she still hangs up her own stocking.

The second thing of significance for me about the Christmas season is the good feeling prompted by memories of Christmases past.  It’s always been a time for family members to come together.

With those holiday greetings and gay, happy meetings when friends come to call…

For years, my parents’ house was the destination on Christmas Day, eventually giving way to my home, where my wife and I raised our two daughters.  Grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, and friends would all drop in, often staying for the opening of the gifts, and dinner afterwards.  And, without fail, they would reminisce about their own childhood Christmas seasons, sharing their happy, nostalgic memories with us.

…tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago…

It’s different today, of course, because our daughters have children of their own.  Theirs are the homes we gather at now, with in-laws and friends of their generation.  And, to my everlasting surprise, we have become the old folks—observers rather than directors of the goings-on around the tree.

Worst of all—as the oldest one gathered there, I have to wait ‘til the very end to open my stocking.

…parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting, and caroling out in the snow…

christmas_carolers

But, regardless of where we are, the things that haven’t changed are the feelings of love and joy we all share at this time of year.

The third thing of importance to me is the fact that Christmas does mark the birth of Christ.  I believe the question of historical accuracy is irrelevant.  The very fact of his birth, whatever the actual date, is a symbol of our hope for peace on earth.  It stands as a beacon of the promise for salvation in a world fraught with danger and despair for many.

I have absolutely no difficulty in integrating these three different notions of Christmas.  For me, they come together nicely—the fun and excitement of Santa Claus, the love and laughter of times with family, and our renewing joy at the birth of Christ.

There’ll be much mistletoeing and hearts will be glowing when loved ones appear…

Perhaps the thread that ties the three together is the idea of faith, the idea of choosing to believe.  Christmas is my favourite time of the year, but for reasons that are neither irrefutable nor provable.  Faith doesn’t abide proof.

nativity_Bloch

My beliefs are valid only because I deem them so.  I want to believe in them, so I do.  And, therefore, Christmas represents a magical time for me—especially now, knowing I have more of them behind me than ahead.

Softly-falling snow, gaily-twinkling lights, the wonderful music, the excited laughter of grandchildren, and a peace that surpasses all understanding—all join to herald the coming of another Christmastime, a time to celebrate, to remember, to rejoice and give thanks.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

And it matters to me!