Land of the Giants

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I’ve been a baseball fan all my life. I should rephrase that. I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan, because I grew up in St. Louis and have fond memories of watching the Redbirds with my dad. I still root for the Cardinals, but now I live in Scottsdale, Arizona, in the land of the Giants. You see, Old Town Scottsdale is the springtime home of the San Francisco Giants.

In March, the Valley of the Sun becomes the Valley of the Snowbirds. Primarily because baseball fans flock here to watch their favorite teams play in Cactus League baseball games. All the restaurants and streets in Old Town are filled with baseball revelers, who are grateful to be away from the cold and cloudy skies where they typically live (and are generally willing to disregard the cooler-than-normal March we’re experiencing this year).

My husband and I work out three or four times a week at Club SAR. It’s a fitness center that’s connected to one of the Giants’ practice facilities a few miles north of our home. As we were leaving the gym just before noon on Monday, I passed an imposing figure in a San Francisco Giants uniform. He was seated on a park bench. I smiled and said “Good morning.” He returned the favor as I  continued on my way.

That’s when I realized the man I had acknowledged was Lee Smith, baseball pitching legend. Lee was a real closer, a relief specialist, a true baseball giant. He’s third on the all time “saves” list and was elected to the Hall of Fame last December. Lee is now a minor league pitching coach for the San Francisco Giants.

If Lee’s personal success as a pitcher is any indication–a dominating figure and flame-thrower who played a combined eighteen years for the Cubs, Red Sox, Cardinals, Yankees and four other teams–the Giants will be thankful they have him on the field guiding their young pitching staff in the coming 2019 baseball season.

Previously in my life, I would have turned around and possibly run back for a chance of a photo with Lee. Or at least asked for his autograph. But he seemed quite content sitting there in the shady entryway to the gym. I didn’t want to disturb him.

Now that I’m sixty-one-years old, I couldn’t see the upside of hassling a Hall of Famer. He’s certainly earned the respect and any rest he can get. I was simply satisfied with my brush with greatness on a Monday morning, living here in the land of the Giants.

He Wrote Every Day for Fifty-Two Years

S & G Ferrell in 1930s

Long before there were bloggers or social media mavens, there was S.R. Ferrell. He was my maternal grandfather, born March 9, 1901, in Huntersville, North Carolina.

Sturdy and steady, S.R. (he preferred the initials to his given name of Sherrell Richardson) wrote brief, daily observations in his diary for fifty-two consecutive years, until his death on April 17, 1985.

Needless to say, S.R. was a tenacious worker. At age forty-four when he bought his Huntersville, North Carolina farm–the place he loved most–it felt to him as if life had just begun. But, truth be told, in the first half of his life he’d already toiled as a WWI soldier, photographer, grocery clerk, furniture factory hand, and hosiery mill employee.

Imagine the personal commitment required to reach for your diary at the end of every day for more than half a century. To jot down something about the day after tending to your livestock and crops in extreme weather conditions. To do it over and over again.

In 2015, as I was writing From Fertile Ground, my three-generation memoir that weaves together recollections from my grandfather, my mother, and my own life, I sequestered myself and read every page of S.R.’s diary entries.

Much of his writing focuses on his observations about the weather, his output at the hosiery mill, the condition of his farm, and special moments with family members and neighbors. In S.R.’s world, most important occurrences happened within his physical reach or just down the road. Yet, on occasion, there is a reminder in his diary of the larger community in which he lived and the dramatic, history-defining moments he witnessed. For instance, these were his words on Sunday, November 24, 1963:

Lee Oswald, the man they were holding for the shooting of President Kennedy, was shot today in the basement of the Dallas, Texas jail … Jimmy and Steve came over for a few minutes … Fair. Sunny. Cooler … We watched the procession moving President Kennedy’s body from the White House to U.S. Capitol Building … 41 degree low. 56 degree high.

This week, as I remember S.R. and celebrate his 118th birthday, I’m grateful for the written legacy he left behind. Thirty years after his death, his stories helped me ignite my artistic sensibilities, rediscover my southern roots, and find my path as an author.

Yet, I find myself longing for the stoic farmer to pick up his pen one more time. To tell me about the weather. To remind me of those cherished days on his beloved farm, where he raised cantaloupes, cattle and corn. Where I spent summers with him and my tender-hearted grandmother a lifetime ago … milking cows, gathering eggs from the hen house, cradling kittens and puppies, and chasing peacocks with the hope of bringing a colorful tail feather back to the Midwest as a souvenir of our adventure.

The best I can do is to gaze out my window at a pink, speckled 5 x 7-inch piece of granite stone from his farm. I’ve carried it with me throughout my life … from North Carolina to Missouri to Illinois to Arizona … and now the rock rests beneath a beautiful red bougainvillea in the Valley of the Sun.

 

 

Letting It Fly

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On Saturday, I watched Chandler let it fly. He’s a friend who’s in town participating in a Disc Golf Pro Tour event here in Arizona. Chandler is pursuing his passion. Doing everything he can to earn a living in a sport he loves. Competing in a profession in which he has quite a bit of skill.

I’ll admit it. I know little about the sport of disc golf. It appears to follow many of the rules of traditional golf. The primary difference is that you fling a round disc toward a basket, rather than drive a tiny ball with a club into a hole. The idea is to deposit the disc in the basket in as few attempts as possible.

Yesterday, on a warm and occasionally breezy Scottsdale afternoon, several of us (we dubbed ourselves Team Chandler) followed along in the gallery as the action wound its way from one end of Vista del Camino Park to another.

As with any golf competition, there were highs and lows. Birdies and bogeys. Fist bumps and sighs. But the good news is Chandler made the cut. He’s competing in the final round of the tournament today as I write this. His goal is to finish in the top ten.

No matter if he does or doesn’t, the important thing is Chandler is following his dream in the desert and pursuing his passion. Whatever the results are today, he will move on to the next stop on the tournament circuit in Texas this coming week.

After all, win or lose, life is short. It’s always better to let it fly.

 

Thank You, Woodrow Wilson

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With a stroke of his pen one hundred years ago, president Woodrow Wilson preserved a natural wonder. He signed a bill on February 26, 1919, making the Grand Canyon the fourteenth member of the national park system.

Evidently, it was a quiet resolution. According to an article in last Sunday’s Arizona Republic, there was barely a mention in the press at the time.  But this week we celebrate the wisdom of Wilson’s act. He ensured that an unfettered geological phenomenon be kept as it should be … unfettered for the uninitiated and the unborn.

No matter how many technological advancements we may be grateful for today, few things can compare with the tear-inducing joy of approaching the rim of the Grand Canyon for the first time and marveling at its expansive beauty. It’s a moment I’ll always treasure.

Without question, we’d be lost without the unbridled, magnificent beauty of our national parks. Especially the Grand Canyon. It’s our vast wonder of wonders, protected for all the world to see. Let’s keep it that way for future generations to enjoy.

Thank you, Woodrow Wilson.

Tucson through the Looking Glass

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It was July 1989. I was a PR guy. Visiting Tucson, Arizona on business for a travel agency conference. Working long hours at the chic Westin LaPaloma Resort in the Santa Catalina Mountains. Finalizing speeches and media interviews on behalf of Covia, a United Airlines subsidiary that managed the Apollo computer reservation system.

I remember feeling trapped behind glass in the summer heat. Unresolved about my life and orientation. At that moment, I had little time to explore my personal landscape or the vast mountainous terrain outside the restaurant window. The only positive glimmer was the exuberance I felt seeing a road runner by the pool one afternoon during a pause in my busy schedule.

Over the weekend, I was back at the Westin LaPaloma Resort. This time the circumstances were different. It was winter. I was there for pleasure. Visiting the same terrain as an Arizona resident. With my husband and fifty or so new friends, my gay pals with the Phoenix Metropolitan Men’s Chorus. We performed at a GALA leadership symposium and received a standing ovation.

Before our performance, my husband and I took the opportunity to dine quietly at one of the resort restaurants. I peered through the glass at the gorgeous mountains.

Yes, thirty years have passed … and my how the terrain has changed.

Nineteen Months and Counting Every Day

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Nineteen months ago this week, Tom and I began a new life in a new home in a new state of wider skies and grander possibilities: Arizona.

Much of my latest book, An Unobstructed View, is about my fond recollections of another state: Illinois. In it, I look back at thirty-seven rich and meaningful years in the Prairie State and the misfortune my husband and I encountered on our way west. Translated that means the mild heart attack I suffered in St. Louis on my sixtieth birthday.

Today, on a sunny-and-cool, sixty-four-degree afternoon in Scottsdale, I realized just how much number crunching I’ve been doing with Tom since we left the Midwest and arrived in the Sonoran Desert: tallying my steps (10,000 on most days); religiously adhering to a forty-five-minute cardiac exercise regimen three times a week that includes a combination of treadmill, light weights, stationary bike, and swimming; remembering to stretch daily and partaking in ninety minutes of gentle yoga every Friday morning (I love it!); monitoring my blood pressure regularly; dramatically reducing the amount of saturated fat and sodium in my diet; trimming my weight to 195 pounds (twenty less than my pre-coronary size); taking a higher dose of statin medication to lower the amount of “bad” LDL cholesterol; and visiting my cardiologist twice a year. The list goes on.

All of that may sound exhausting. At times it is. But it’s worth it. I feel good most days. I know I am fortunate to be living in a warm climate where I can stay active. Here in Arizona, I do more than count my vital signs. I count my blessings.

In that grateful vein, and because February is American Heart Month, I’ll be discounting the Kindle version of An Unobstructed View on Amazon for several days this coming week. It will be available for only ninety-nine cents from February 13 through 18.

I hope my story will provide you with the inspiration to treasure your past, present and future. To listen to your body and know the common heart attack warning signs: pressure or tightness in your chest or an aching sensation in your chest, arms or jaw; nausea, indigestion or heartburn; shortness of breath; cold sweat; fatigue; lightheadedness or sudden dizziness.

It’s up to you to stay healthy. To honor and heed your family history. To enjoy every moment. To make every day count no matter where you live.

 

A Storyteller’s Dream

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On Saturday, my husband and I arrived at the Scottsdale Civic Center Library at 8:30 a.m. We stood patiently. Waiting at the side door in a snaking line. Juggling signage and two boxes of my books with dozens of other independent Arizona authors. All of us were there for the chance to tell and sell our stories at the 6th Annual Local Authors Book Sale.

At 9 a.m., the doors swung open. Like Black Friday shoppers angling for a door-buster deal, we entered the room in a rush to find the best available spot in a sea of first-come-first-served tables. Over the next hour, we unpacked and stacked our books. We positioned cards and literature to entice a roomful of readers. They began to arrive at 10 a.m.

Over the next four hours, I could feel my adrenalin surge whenever someone stopped by my table to say hello or open one of my books. There is no greater joy than feeling the genuine love and support of book-loving friends who admire your work … unless it is having an encounter with a person you’ve never met. Someone who listens intently to you as you describe your writing, deliberately walks from table to table around the room to ponder the possibilities, and then returns to buy Tales of a Rollercoaster Operator, because your up-and-down stories from your St. Louis childhood feel like an intriguing fit.

All of that happened on Saturday. My husband was with me. We were surrounded by fellow writers, close friends and avid readers. I sold eight of my books. It was an extraordinary day. I am living a storyteller’s dream.