Sunday, December 28, 2014

New Year's decision

Traditionally, today is the day Kim and I decide what we're going to do for New Year's.

Party or not to party?

Interestingly enough, our decision is usually based around our grocery shopping habits. Eventually, we'll find ourselves standing in front of the wine racks, casing out the champagne.

"Do you want to celebrate New Year's this year?" one of us will ask.

"I don't know. Do you?"

"Well, I'm not really into it this year."

"Me either."

"Hey, do you think this champagne is any good? It's got a neat label."

"I don't know. The only way to see if we like it is to buy it."

"Well, if somebody invites us to a party, at least we can bring some champagne."

There is a certain logic to this. If we buy the champagne, we're pretty much committed to staying up to midnight on New Year's eve. If we decide it's not worth the trouble, we'll move on to the frozen foods.

If we decide to buy the Moet, however, then it's a trip to the dairy section to find some worthy cheese, followed by a visit to the cracker aisle, with maybe some pretzels and nuts along the way. It adds up.

There have been times when we buy a cheap champagne and celebrate on our own, just the two of us. We'll watch the ball come down on Times Square, sip our bubbly, and be sound asleep by 12:08 a.m. It works for us.

One year, we decided to host a small party at our house. I invited a couple of friends from The Dispatch, where I worked, and Kim invited a few couples from the bank, where she worked.

I think four people showed up. Six of us in all. Cheese and crackers everywhere and nobody to eat it. We never did that again.

Some years, as a sports writer for The Dispatch, I had to cover the holiday Christmas Tournament at Ledford, and the championship games were usually held on New Year's eve. I'd get home at 11:55 p.m. on a good night. Sigh.

There was one year, after I became sports editor, where I didn't have to cover a game but my sports writer did. I felt bad about it. So Kim and I went to The Dispatch with a bottle of champagne, and when midnight arrived, we popped the cork and had a little party in the newsroom with the staff that was there. That might have been the best New Year's party I'd been to in maybe ever.

There's also New Year's Day to consider, especially the meal. Traditionally it's pork (ham), with greens and black-eyed peas and sometimes sauerkraut. It's supposed to bring you wealth, but it's never worked for us.

This year, we're considering a turkey breast in the slow cooker with some dressing that Kim made for Christmas and is taking up space in the freezer.

As far as I'm concerned, that's a pretty good way to start off a new year.

Here's hoping the best for all of you.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Moravian snob

The other day Kim was talking with one of her friends on the telephone.

I was in the next room, playing on the computer, and I got to hear some snippets from her phone conversion:

"Yes, I put some cream  of mushroom soup in the crockpot and the chicken tasted great."

"Our cat is losing some weight and I think we need to take her to the vet."

"Oh, Bruce is a Moravian snob."

Whaa???

That got my attention. At first, I was a little taken aback by her comment, but the more I thought about what she said, the more I had to agree.

I am the son of a Moravian minister. I'm not quite sure how the Wehrle family got there. Our immigrant Wehrles were Catholics from Germany who came to the United States in the great migration of the 1860s. They remained Catholic until my paternal grandfather elected to join the United Church of Christ. Somewhere along the way, I think he became a Moravian, a prevalent Protestant denomination in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania — particularly because the city of Bethlehem (a Moravian settlement founded in 1741) was just across the river.

There can never be too many Moravian stars.
 Dad somehow caught the Moravian bug, even though it took a while. He was a high school English teacher in the Bethlehem suburb of Fountain Hill for several years. Then we spent a year in Portsmouth, NH, when he gave up teaching to join the Red Cross. Then he went back to teaching for a few years in East Hartford, CT.

Somewhere along the way, he heard his calling to become a Moravian minister. We packed up and headed back to Bethlehem so he could attend Moravian Theological Seminary, located on the campus of Moravian College (where, incidentally, Dad got his B.A. degree). This was during my formative junior high years, and I became submerged in Moravian culture — I took my confirmation classes at College Hill Moravian Church.

Bethlehem, no doubt principally because of its Moravian heritage, comes alive at Christmas. In fact, the place bills itself as Christmas City. Moravian stars pop up all over the place. Churches conduct Moravian love feasts on Christmas Eve, with Moravian brass bands and children's choirs singing "Morning Star." And everybody eats Moravian sugar cakes.

Moravians, in fact, were/are very musically inclined (except for me. I can't play an instrument and I sing like Alfalfa). But it is said that Benjamin Franklin often visited Bethlehem because he enjoyed listening to the Moravian ensembles who brought with them the latest hits from Europe. Music is huge in church events.

How was I going to resist all that? Moravian traditions embedded themselves in my DNA. When I moved to Lexington in 1976, I lost contact with the church. This is a phenomenon with many preacher's kids. We usually go in one of two directions: we either become ministers ourselves, or we run. I ran.

Sometime after Kim and I got married in 1980, I thought it would be nice to go to a Christmas Eve service in Winston-Salem (a Moravian settlement founded in 1766). It had been years since I'd been to one. I was surprised by how moved I was by the music and the message, to the point of tears, as childhood memories revived themselves and came running back.

My Moravian DNA bubbled over. I even asked Kim if she would make Moravian sugar cakes at Christmas, using my grandmother's recipe, passed on to my mother.

I hang my own Moravian star these days. I eat Moravian chicken pie. I go to Mrs. Hanes the first weekend in Advent to buy my Moravian sugar cookies. I constantly wear an old, beat up Moravian College baseball cap that I swear illustrates my persona.

I can't help myself. So, yes. I guess I am a Moravian Snob. With a capital "M." And a capital "S."

Merry Christmas.




Sunday, December 14, 2014

Christmas flicks

It never fails.

I always cry when Clarence gets his wings. I know the bell on the Christmas tree is going to jingle; I know Jimmy Stewart (as George Bailey) is going to be saved by his friends; I know all of this stuff is going to happen because I've seen It's A Wonderful Life just shy of a thousand times and I weep anyway.

I think I actually want to cry. I look forward to it, just like I do when I watch that scene in A Field of Dreams where Kevin Costner (as Ray Kinsella) has a catch with his dead father. Go figure.

The first time I ever saw It's A Wonderful Life must have been almost 40 years ago, and it grabbed me by the throat even then. I don't know what it is about that flick, but it makes me incredibly nostalgic for an era that I never even lived in.



Anyway, to my mind, the movie's denouement may be one of the best movie endings ever, Christmas or not. I'm tearing up just watching this clip even now.

I just missed living in that era, in fact. The movie came out in 1946, and I was born in 1951. It was Stewart's first movie since coming home as a decorated B-24 bomber pilot (he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross) for flying 20 perilous missions over flak-infested Europe in World War II.

Stewart, incidentally, made a short propaganda war film at the time to promote enlistments in the Army Airs Corps titled, ironically enough, Winning Your Wings. You can't make this stuff up. I suspect Clarence may have been Stewart's guardian angel even then.




Another Christmas favorite of mine is Miracle on 34th Street, and this is the 1947 version with Edmund Gwenn as an unforgettable Kris Kringle dealing with contemporary issues (along with Natalie Wood and Maureen O'Hara). I love a good courtroom drama and the scene where lawyer Fred Gaily proves the existence of Santa Claus by submitting as evidence bags full of children's letters to Santa is priceless — and brilliant.

Then there's A Christmas Story, a very humorous movie that to me is losing some of its resonance because it's repeated endlessly on a continuous Christmas day loop on TBS.

But I can relate to this flick. This is nostalgia that I actually lived. I, too, wanted a Red Ryder BB gun but was told by my parents that I would shoot my eye out. I can relate to department store Santas, to bullies in the schoolyard and to families gathered around the Christmas tree opening their presents.



I never stuck my tongue on an ice-cold flagpole, though. In a way, I'm kind of amazed there isn't a nation-wide rash of tongue-stickings (as far as I know) on Christmas day, but I have to admit, there is a temptation to try that just because it's stupid and some of us humans just can't resist stupidity. I just don't know if it's possible for a 63-year-old man to explain himself getting in that situation.

There are tons of other worthy holiday movies, most notably A Christmas Carol in almost any of its versions. I must profess a fondness for Alistair Sim's Scrooge, although George C. Scott makes me believe there actually was a Scrooge who really did live and learn. In any case, Charles Dickens gave us a great storyline.

There are others, of course. I'm not sure that Home Alone really qualifies as a Christmas movie, even though the action takes place over the holidays. I still like it, though. Christmas Vacation has its moments, but most of it is just plain silly. The same can be said for Scrooged. And don't even talk to me about Grinches or whatnot...

I guess the classics are classic for a reason.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Caught in a thought

Sometime around noon on Thursday I suddenly found myself wading through a Norman Rockwell illustration.

It was Thanksgiving Day.

And somehow, here I was, smack dab in the middle of a cozy kitchen with 16 other people, each taking our turn with polite jabs at pieces of turkey, or honey-baked ham, while loading our plates with sweet potato casserole, creamed corn, cranberry sauce and that irresistible dressing from Kim's mother's secret recipe (it's not written down anywhere).

Rockwell and I share the same Thanksgiving vision.
 I stepped to one side for a moment's reflection while the others were helping themselves to the feast and instantly I became a brushstroke in Rockwell's  famous "Freedom from Want" portrait, the one where somebody's grandparents are serving a whopping turkey to the rest of their clearly extended family.

Rockwell always considered himself to be an illustrator, not an artist, but this particular work has almost always generated such a strong emotional current for me that I can almost smell the turkey and hear the table chatter.

Illustrator, indeed.

I'd seen that picture as a child and, God help me, it's one of the first images that fills my brain every Thanksgiving since then. I don't know why. It just does.

For the first couple decades of my life, my Pennsylvania Thanksgivings resembled Rockwell's very own vision. But then life intervened. One of my brothers moved to Alaska. Another to Iowa. I moved to North Carolina. Our grandparents passed away and so did our parents. Curiously, our Thanksgivings depended on others of no blood relation.

Here's the spread with bits of the gathering. Dressing is at bottom left corner.
 So this year — and we've done this a few times before — we were invited to Kim's brother's in-laws for Thanks-giving in Asheboro. I think by the time Kim and I rolled in, there were 17 of us, which might have set some kind of house record for attendance.

I met at least three people I'd never seen before. Talk about extended families...

Anyway, the next three hours or so were a slice in time to be savored along with the pumpkin pie, and I found myself not only thankful, but grateful, too.

Thanksgivings are like that, aren't they?

Kim's mother's secret dressing recipe:

Hushpuppies from Backcountry Barbecue and Stamey's Barbecue
Cornbread from Southern Lunch.
Toast from Mayberry's in Winston-Salem
Some buttermilk
A package of Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned Classic Stuffing mix
A hard-boiled egg or two
A couple of fresh eggs
A pinch of sage
A stick of butter
Celery, onion
Real cooked chicken
Chicken soup broth
A dollop of love

The hushpuppies, cornbread and toast are all leftovers from actual meals we ate at those places and brought home in to-go boxes. Mix all of this stuff together and put it in a flat pan. Stick it in the oven at the usual 350 degrees and bake until it smells great or looks like it might be done. Enjoy.






Sunday, November 23, 2014

Disappearing act

I'm disappearing.

Really. Literally. Physically. Vanishing.

This realization came to me several months ago during my annual physical examination. I stepped on the scale (we won't talk weight here) and when I got measured — without my Crocs — the nurse said I logged in at 5-foot-5.

Wha...???

I didn't say anything, of course. I knew she was wrong. That sliding, head-topping measuring thingy on the doctor's scale was also wrong. I've never been a tall guy, but I'd always been 5-7 in my adult years.

Five-foot-seven is considered to be short by most modern standards, although I would have been of average height during the Civil War. The current average male height in the United States is approaching — but not quite — 5-10, and I've never been that. Or even close to it. The short gene runs rampant in our family.

I let this new information stew in my noggin for several months, certain that my medical professional had gotten this all screwed up. That is, until a couple of weeks ago in the coffee shop. Somewhere in the conversation at our round table, I mentioned that I was shrinking. Ha ha ha.

"I'm 5-6," chimed the barista, a girl who I guess to be is in her early 20s, if not actually a teenager.

"Come over here and stand next to me," I said, rising from the table. She looked ridiculously short to me.

We stood back-to-back, without our shoes. "Who's taller?" she asked the table.

There was a slight murmur. A slight hesitation. "You are," the consensus told her, "although not by much."

Well, I'm glad they added that disclaimer because I could feel my male ego deflating faster than a bald tire over a spike strip. There it was. It was official. Irrefutable. I'm 5-5.

There is some precedent in the family for this intersecting of gravity, spinal compression and fading bone mass. The last time I visited my grandmother Wehrle in Pennsylvania, I was shocked by how short she was. I imagine she was a woman who stood 5-4 or 5-5 in her prime. But now, in her late 90s, she barely reached my chin. And I'm a short guy.

At 63 years old, I have no way of measuring how fast I'm fading. I suspect one day I'll simply shrink to nothing like something in a plot out of an Edgar Allen Poe (ahem) short story.

I can see my epitaph now:

Bruce was a short guy
and from dusk to dawn
he kept getting shorter
until he was gone.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Blogosphere

Every once in a while, as a source of amusement, I'll check the stats on my blog to get a feel for the size and reach of my readership.

I can't vouch for the accuracy of blogger.com, the platform I use to write and publish my blog, but it tells me the number of hits I get daily, weekly, monthly and all time for each individual blog that I post. It also tells me which countries in which my readers live, which is kind of interesting. Does that mean somebody in Uzbekistan really cares enough to read about the concrete driveway I put in last year? Holy smokes.

I'm flattered and thankful for the small number of faithful readers that follow my blog on a fairly regular basis. I write this thing mostly to entertain, perhaps provide a chuckle, to raise an eyebrow, maybe even to express a simmering outrage and to finally get that off my chest.

A typical blog post will generate about 40-50 hits on the day of publication. I figure 25 of you are regular readers, the other 15 or so are occasional readers or simply found me by accident. And I am more than satisfied with that.

Every once in a while I'll write something that touches a common core. When my friend Kent Crim passed away several months ago, the blog I wrote about him went through the ceiling, generating nearly 900 page views, about 700 of them on the day of publication. That was gratifying.

But this past month something really bizarre has been going on. A blog I wrote three years ago, entitled "Weighty issue" (see here), was lingering at about 60 pageviews ever since it was first published in 2011. Then, for some reason, it recently started smoldering, and then it combusted.

For the past month, "Weighty issue" was getting 40-50 hits per day. Go figure. I couldn't understand it. The world map on the stats page shades each country green when a reader from that nation pulls up my blog, and for some reason, France was always green. Dark green. Green when every other country was blank. Suddenly, it seemed, the French couldn't get enough of me.

As of today, "Weighty issue" has gotten 1,526 pageviews, although the upward trending seems to be slowing down. The story about Kent Crim is a distant second with 892 hits.

Incredibly, I had 2,200 hits for the month of October. Yikes.

I don't get it. I don't have any friends or relatives in France, so why the sudden international interest in my weight?

Then it hit me. Frenchmen are crazy. Their most popular Hollywood actor is Jerry Lewis, for crying out loud. So why shouldn't I be a popular bloggist in France?

I'm still not sure what to make of all of this. I don't know whether to be humbled for the increased readership or annoyed that the sudden impact of 1,526 readers could be skewering the stats.

I guess I'll be humbled. Merci beaucoup.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Burning daylight

As I hammer away on my computer keyboard this morning, my wife remains sound asleep.

We gained an hour of sleep because we changed the clocks last night. Back to standard time. Thus, my wife — who sleeps like a cat anyway — gained an hour of sleep.

Lucky her. It didn't work that way for me — I just got up an hour earlier.

I don't know why we change the clocks. Without getting into the politics of it, the whole concept of saving daylight in the summer seems like a good idea to me, so why don't we save daylight all year long? Especially in the winter, when there's less of it.

OK, OK. It's 6:30 a.m. as I write this, and there's daylight right now where there was none yesterday. Great. Who's awake to take advantage of this moment? Who's outside cutting grass or raking leaves? We seem to be adjusting our daylight for the wrong part of the day.

I went to Wikipedia to read up on this to get a clue as to what I am talking about, but the thing read like a Master's thesis and it lost me when it got to the part about disrupting circadian rhythms, which I was surprised to learn had nothing to do with the Bee Gees and disco music. Clearly, resetting the clock is a different kind of Saturday Night Fever.



As a child, clock changing always seemed like a mid-night event to me, a peculiar precursor to Christmas. I was excited about it without knowing why. I'm still not sure why. Do we actually lose an hour? Do we only have 23 hours today? Or did we repeat an hour, similar to the Twilight Zone time shifts in Ground Hog Day? Is that why the official changing hour is 2 a.m., when nobody is awake?

The blue nations observe daylight savings time. Everyone else is normal.
 And how does the rest of the world cope with this? Wikipedia showed me a map of the world where certain western civilizations observe time changing, but others on the planet don't. How can you conduct international commerce and business with an arrangement like that? How can Federal Express keep a tidy schedule with this mess going on?

Changing the clocks also makes me aware of just how many timepieces I own. There's my watch, and there's my wife's watch, which is like a miniature and I can hardly get to the stem to wind the thing back. There's digital clocks on my appliances and my ancient stereo tuner, yet miraculously I don't have to fiddle with anything on my TV or computer, which somehow know to change the time automatically. So, I wonder, what else do the TV and computer know? Then there's the clocks in our cars, which I always try to change while I'm driving. Probably not a good idea.

But I'm probably overreacting and all of this may be a moot point anyway. I'm sure I'll reconsider everything I've said, you know, after I take my nap. At 3 p.m. Or maybe 2 p.m.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Fun festival

I love the Lexington Barbecue Festival.

I also realize I might be one of only four city residents who actually admits to that, the other three being Joe Sink, Lee Jessup and Newell Clark. But Joe is a founder of the event, Newell is the mayor and Lee is the Opening Ceremonies emcee, so their enthusiasm is obvious (although sincere, I'm sure.)

By contrast, I have friends who actually leave town on festival day, wanting to put as much space between themselves and 200,000 barbecue eaters as possible. Their loss, I figure.

Not much of a crowd at 7 a.m. — perfect for scouting out the festival.
Actually, I'm not a fan of huge crowds, either. That might explain why Kim and I go to the festival around 7 a.m., before it officially opens, to scout out the vendor tents and sand sculpture, listen to sound checks, catch the aromas of funnel cakes, fried pies, blooming onions and cheese steaks in the air, and watch the line grow for Bob Timberlake's autograph on the label of Childress Vineyard's newest bottle of Fine Swine Wine.

Sidebar: One of my friends, a new resident to Lexington, vowed she wouldn't go to the festival because of her anticipation of a ginormous crowd. However, she met us on Main Street around 8 a.m., stayed until 11, went home to chill and meet her daughter coming up from Columbia, SC, and then spent the rest of the afternoon at the festival, mostly (as I understand it) with a smile on her face.

The festival can do that to you. It's truly a bucket list event.

This year the Main Stage featured gates and fencing for security reasons.
 This year, things were a bit different. The city was trying out a new plan for crowd control (to replace the old plan, which was no plan), particularly on the Square, featuring gates and fencing to allow emergency personnel better access to individuals, if needed. Merchants were no longer permitted to set up tables on the sidewalks in front of their businesses, thereby aiding in crowd control, access, and general movement.

I thought it all came together well.

Although the weather was nearly perfect — sunny and cloudless, with afternoon temps that reached into the mid 70s — the early morning crowd developed slowly. Kim and I left by 11-ish, so I had to depend on friends to tell me that the afternoon once again saw peak attendance.

High-flying dogs were a big hit. (Photo by Newell Clark)
 Every festival offers something new, and this year it was the Purina Pro Plan Performance team, which featured amazing Frisbee chasing border collies, shepherds and Chihuahuas. Some of these incredibly agile dogs could leap over my head, no doubt.

This particular portion of the festival was held in the field behind the Civic Center, where the Barbecue Cook-Off is held in the spring. Although it steers some of the crowd away from the vendors and other sights on Main Street, it is a logical gathering place. Stage 4 is located here, as well as the Wine Garden, and bringing folks to this location may take some of the pressure off the crowds on Main Street. It makes sense to me.

For the first time in 31 years of festival going, I did not buy an official festival barbecue sandwich. This has been a long-standing tradition with me, my way of supporting the festival, but this year I couldn't bring myself to pay $6 for a sandwich, or $12 for a tray. Hey, the cost of gas is going down, why not pork? So we opted out and had lunch at a Mexican restaurant. I asked them how come there was no barbecue taco on the menu. They laughed politely. Gringo.

But the party did spin off to Second Avenue later in the day. We have neighbors who have a huge front porch, and during the summer, they occasionally hold impromptu social gatherings for their friends. This was one of those moments. We had perhaps 10 or 12 adults crammed together with a bunch of their kids running around, which might force us to be credentialed next year — like a beer garden.

All in all, it was another perfect festival. I love it.


Friday, October 24, 2014

UNC

I'm still trying to wrap my head around the scandal at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill that involved as many as 3,100 students covering 18 years while taking sham courses in African American studies whose primary objective was to inflate grade point averages.

This is particularly significant in light of the fact that nearly 1,500 of those students — about 47 percent — were athletes, mostly from the vaunted men's and women's basketball teams as well as the Tar Heel football team. The easy "paper" courses apparently were designed to help keep academically struggling athletes — some, apparently, who could barely read at an elementary school level — eligible in their sports

Those mind-blowng and unprecedented numbers were released Wednesday following a detailed report by hired investigator Kenneth Wainstein, a former US Department of Justice official now representing the respected law firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft.

Now it's the NCAA's turn. Originally an academic issue, the question now involves athletics, and the NCAA is reopening its previous investigation (some football players were provided extra benefits, which led to the dismissal of coach Butch Davis) no doubt using Wainstein's report as a template.

The NCAA? Knees used to buckle when the NCAA threatened an investigation. In 1986 the organization handed Southern Methodist University's football team the so-called "death penalty" for severe violations of NCAA rules and regulations and it took the Mustangs nearly 20 years to recover.

It may be telling to say that that particular "death penalty" is the only one issued by the NCAA to date. Apparently, no other massive violations of the NCAA rule book have occurred since then. Yeah, right.

No wonder faith in the NCAA's mission is faltering. If the primary purpose for its existence is to provide an education for athletes, it better learn to be tough, consistent and fair — and without an eye to revenue producers such as sold-out arenas, television contracts and merchandise licensing. Ah, yes. Money. Always money.

There is a four-year statute of limitations in the NCAA concerning investigations, although there is an NCAA handbook bylaw loophole that states "a pattern of willful violations on the part of the institution" or indication of "a blatant disregard for ... recruiting, extra-benefit, academic or ethical conduct bylaws ..." can open and expand an investigation beyond four years.

I think that needs to happen here. We'll see.

The UNC scandal is far reaching. It goes back to 1993. If the NCAA should decide on a death penalty, it could vacate the national basketball championships of 1993, 2005 and 2009, thus tainting, among others, venerable coach Dean Smith.

I have a number of friends who are Tar Heel diehards. Some are embarrassed and ashamed by all this; some defend the school by pointing out this type of subterfuge happens at nearly all major programs (although I'm not sure it happens for 18 years, which implies knowledge and cover-up to keep it going) and so what? I feel badly for all of them who call UNC "alma mater."

A university is also community, so in the end, this affects us all, even if we didn't attend UNC. We should all be appalled. Offended. And saddened.






Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Flu shot

Kim and I went for our flu shots last week.

We've done this every fall for probably the past 20 years.

I think we were scared into it. I remember seeing something on the History Channel about the great flu pandemic of 1918 that infected something like 500 million people worldwide, and killed nearly 100 million of them.

I was learning about this pandemic about the same time that I was getting information from my television that the young and the elderly were the most susceptible to possibly dying from the flu and that it would be wise to get your shot now. That PSA was often accompanied by a video of a crying baby — or a smiling grandmother — getting a hypodermic needle in the arm.

I'm not sure if this is an effective campaign picture for getting a flu shot.
 Twenty years ago, I was in my mid-40s, which even then sounded pre-elderly to me. Kim must have agreed, so we started getting our shots annually. And while we occasionally caught colds, we never got the flu.

Every now and then, our places of employment would offer a flu shot clinic, bringing in a nurse to needle us, or we could go to the county health department.

The last two years, we've gone to our family physician for our shots. This year, I was a little uneasy while sitting in the waiting room. We'd made an early morning appointment and I didn't expect to see many people there. On the contrary, there was a steady procession of folks walking in and walking out the door — presumably, for their flu shots.

There were a few children among them. The kids were sniffling and coughing, and I'm thinking, great, I probably need some kind of shot to protect me from the waiting room. I swear I could see the microbes and viruses flying through the air as we waited.

In due time, our names were called and we got our shots. The whole process took maybe 5 minutes. I felt like I was doing my bit in fighting germ warfare.

Nevertheless, we promptly went home and disinfected ourselves.

What has almost always amused me are the excuses some of my adult friends — who should know better —  have for not getting a flu shot. Some say they'll just take their chances and others claim they actually got the flu after having had a shot once in their childhood, although doctors say this is impossible because the vaccine is not infectious (see here.)

Personally, I think they're just afraid to get stuck by a needle.






Sunday, October 5, 2014

Unexpected gesture

We didn't see this coming.

The other day, I posted a Throwback Thursday item on Facebook about Kim's and my 34th anniversary, which was Saturday.

It was just something nice I wanted to do for Kim. I posted a 34-year-old picture of her smiling broadly in her wedding gown, which I always felt was an absolutely stunning image of her. And with it, I ran a picture of our wedding party, which included our parents and attendants — family and best friends.

Within hours of this post we received a message from one of our newest friends, a woman named Judy who lives in our neighborhood. She came to Lexington several months ago, and we met her on a walking trail.

We learned there are more than a few similarities between us, not the least of which is a connection to northeast Pennsylvania, where I was raised. We have since tried to make her adjustment to a new environment as pleasant as possible, recommending to her anything from candy stores and restaurants to doctors and tire dealers. Kind of a Wehrle Welcome Wagon.

Anyway, Judy wanted to fix breakfast for us Saturday morning.

You have to be married 34 years to get a breakfast like this.
Umm, well, OK. But really, don't go out of your way. It's not like the 34th is a milestone marker or anything.

No, I insist, she said. Do you like sausage?

Saturday morning arrived and the next thing we knew, so did Judy, bearing platters and trays and all sorts of stuff. She needed help bringing it into our house.

Before I knew it, we were sitting at the dining room table. In front of me was a plate with something like a quiche or a souffle (with sausage). It was awesome. Also on the plate were scalloped potatoes, accompanied by red peppers carefully cut into the shape of hearts (for the lovebirds). On the side was a small dessert glass filled with vanilla yogurt and blueberries over a bed of granola. That was followed by little cherry tarts.

The lovebirds — as pictured by Judy.
Omigosh. Kim and I only eat like this when we stay in Victorian-era bed and breakfasts. Otherwise, breakfast usually is a bowl of cornflakes and a peck on the cheek.

All of this gave me pause for reflection. I love my neighborhood. It's the way I remember the neighborhoods I grew up in during my youth. A neighborhood where strangers can become friends and where friends watch out for each other.

I guess most neighborhoods are still like this. I don't know. I think it helps to have sidewalks and houses with porches that encourage invisible invitations and offer limitless opportunities for social gatherings among friends.

I like it. A lot.

But it helps to have a generous heart in the first place. Even if you don't see it coming.





Sunday, September 28, 2014

My feminine side

I was going to title this post "Getting in Touch with My Feminine Side" until I realized it sounded like something I might have to have myself arrested for.

But lately I've become more aware of my sensitivity to the things around me. This awareness could be, in part, a condition of my age as I grow older, although I don't know that for sure.

What I do know is that I've been reading my share of chick books lately. Books loaded with pastel colors on the covers and tons of feminine perspective within the pages. Through the hearty recommendation of a (female) friend on Facebook, I went to the library and picked up "Sullivan's Island" and "Isle of Palms" by Dorothea Benton Frank.

Frank is an author I'd never heard of prior to this, but her work shows up now and then on the New York Times bestseller list. She writes descriptively, with a taste of Geechee and Gullah flavoring, of modern life in the Lowcountry region around Charleston and its environs.

I felt a little funny about checking these books out of the library until I saw on their colorful covers that Pat Conroy, the definitive Lowcountry author, described Frank's work as "hilarious and wise" and that "her books are funny, witty and usually damp with saltwater."

OK, I was hooked. My anima was piqued (the anima, as described by theoretical psychologist Carl Jung, is the female inner personality that resides in the male unconscious. I think it's the anima that makes me cry when my favorite football team loses the big game. For the female, it's the animus. I think. I'm waiting for the animus to tell Kim, my wife, it's time for her to mow the yard). Anyway, I breezed through these two potboilers getting heavy doses of what it's like raising teenage girls, menopause, cheating husbands, small business ownership and what it takes to apply makeup correctly.

Hmmm.

This might have been a little more than I bargained for, although I will give Frank credit for broadening my anima horizons. Kim now has my total empathy, if not sympathy. Or is it the other way around?

My reading list, by the way, still leans to the feminine perspective. I finished and returned Frank's books to pick up the ultimate female Southern epic, Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind." I've never read it, and it's about time I do. I'm just a couple pages into the 1,000 I still have to read, and I can tell right off that we've reached a different level of depth and perception here.

At any rate, I guess I'm glad I've tweaked my feminine side. I'm ready for glorious sunsets, pina coladas on the beach, cuddling, candles, bed and breakfast inns, to pet a cat, to weep at a sad movie, to just go out and smell the roses.




Sunday, September 21, 2014

My NFL boycott

It's Sunday. I'm getting ready to suspend reality and watch about eight consecutive hours of NFL football.

Maybe.

There's a part of me that's thinking about boycotting the NFL today — and maybe longer — thanks in large part to Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, Adrian Peterson, Ray McDonald and Jonathan Dwyer, all of whom are dealing with domestic abuse issues.

They are football players charged with allegedly punching women and beating children. In the pool of NFL football players, those men probably closely reflect the percentage of abusers hiding in plain sight in our own society. So we shouldn't be surprised this horrific behavior also exists among our sports heroes, regardless of what games they play.

As a fan, it's hard to make this work in my head. I actually want to suspend reality. I watch sports precisely to get away from the real world for a while. I don't want the real world to follow me to my safe harbor of limed fields and colorful end zones.

It doesn't make sense to see the juxtaposition of words like "football," "game," and "play" with words like "child abuse" and "domestic abuse."

And yet, here we are.

Sports: people playing competitive games, usually for barrels of money, while wallowing in moments of adulation and self-congratulation — hell, who's really suspending reality here?

I thought sports was supposed to help built character. That's what I was taught in my youth.

If any good can come of this, perhaps it's that the NFL now can use itself as a vehicle to make us more aware of the domestic abuse issues in our society. That seems to be what's happening now — at least, for this news cycle.

And maybe, in the long run, it can be a teaching moment. One that helps to build character.





Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Asheville

Kim and I took a trip to a foreign land this past weekend.

We went to Asheville.

This is significant because we hadn't been to Asheville in nearly 25 years, despite the fact that it's just a little more than two hours away. Back then, we were the perfect tourists. Our only stop was the Biltmore Estate and we spent several hours there totally not comprehending the lifestyle of opulence.

We never made it into town.

Over the years, we ended up at other destination points, like L.L. Bean in Freeport, ME; Al Johnson's in Sister Bay, WI; the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, MA, or Earthquake Park in Anchorage, AK.

This time, a quarter of a century later, we were on a mission. One of our favorite music acts, Underhill Rose, is based in Asheville, and we wanted to see this fantastic all-female Americana trio perform on their home turf.

We hit the jackpot. The girls, performing in front of their friends (and, for guitarist/vocalist Molly Rose Reed, her family) were superior Saturday night.

The Isis Restaurant and Music Hall is a restored old-timey movie house in west Asheville that provides an incredible listening room, and you could tell the girls were comfortable there. Everything was perfect.

"A Bed of Roses" served as our weekend home base.
Sunday was our day to make up for all we missed 25 years ago. We stayed overnight in a Victorian-era bed and breakfast (named, appropriately enough, "A Bed of Roses"), where we enjoyed incredible two-course breakfasts.

Our first stop Sunday was the famous Grove Park Inn, a resort built in 1913 but offers all the amenities for modern opulence and indulgence. I think we cased the joint with our mouths agape. You simply can't hide the hayseeds from the silver spoons.

After a couple of hours on the grounds, our next stop was back in town for lunch at a restaurant called The Vault, which was voted to have the best hamburger in town. The voters were correct — might have been the best burger in my lifetime.

The Grove Park Inn is a pretty impressive place.
Next up was the French Broad Chocolate Lounge for dessert. Kim, I think, heard about this place from a friend. The specialty is a "liquid truffle," which on first concept I assumed would be a chocolate candy with a chocolate syrupy center.

Wrong. Not even close.

It's a warm drink — a ganache, really — served in an espresso cup with a tiny sipping spoon that I used to stoke the stuff into my mouth like coal into a furnace. Whatta rube. But, mmm, so good.

We spent more time just walking around town, taking in the Grove Arcade and other architectural sights. Some of the more fascinating scenes were the curbside street performers, musicians of every caliber, dotting the sidewalks. We saw one guy play a small metal washboard shaped like a tie around his neck as a perfect accompaniment to his funky guitar-playing partner.

I wonder if these artists say, "Well, I've got to pay the rent tomorrow, guess I'll go out and play some tunes for a few hours." Wouldn't surprise me.

I also kind of wondered if the girls, in their salad days, were street musicians. 

Other observations, mostly general, probably mostly wrong: all the women have tattoos; there are no older folks — I think this is because to get anywhere, you have to walk on the side of a mountain, which eliminates the 55-over crowd; the sincere hug is the common language of diversified Asheville — everybody gets a hug, whether you're coming or going; Asheville is naturally funky because of the oxygen deprivation at 2,100 feet above sea level.

All of this and we didn't even need a passport.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

High flight

The other day my good friend Donnie Roberts, the chief photographer at The Dispatch, emailed me a heads up announcing that the Liberty Foundation was going to be at Smith Reynolds Airport on Sept. 13-14 for the upcoming Winston-Salem Air Show, bringing with it the "Memphis Belle", a restored World War II era B-17 Flying Fortress bomber which appeared in the 1990 movie by the same name.

The Liberty Foundation was offering media flights and would I be interested in going? After all, I am a retired journalist.

Wow.

A promotional photo of the B-17 "Memphis Belle" in flight. Beautiful.
Usually, I would jump on something like that. I'm a history nut and opportunities like this don't come around very often.

But I have a part time job, and the media flights are scheduled to take place during my shift.

I know. This is a weak excuse.

But I have other reasons for backing out.

One of those reasons includes the Liberty Foundation's other B-17, "Liberty Belle", which they brought to the Lexington Airport several years ago, also offering media flights. I tried to hitch a ride on that one, but a mechanical problem with the tail wheel cancelled that experience after the plane taxied down the runway — but never took off.

So I got to taxi in a B-17.

A year or so later, the "Liberty Belle" ended up in flaming pieces in an Illinois cornfield. Uh-oh.



About a year after that, the Collins Foundation brought its own B-17 to the Lexington Airport, along with its B-24, "Witchcraft", which is the only flying Liberator left in the world (despite the fact that more than 18,000 of them were built to bomb Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan into submission). They, too, were offering media rides, and in a moment of serendipity, I was assigned to ride in the B-24.

Rabbit ears come out of my hat as I prepare for my B-24 experience.
It was a cold, overcast November day, but my half-hour flight over High Rock Lake was truly memorable. I got to crawl all over the unheated, unpres-surized plane while it flew at an altitude of 1,000 feet at about 200 miles per hour. I even wore my L.L. Bean bomber jacket for the occasion. (see here).

I think I got a sense of what it must have been like for those boys of the Greatest Generation to fly those impossible missions. It's an eye-opening experience.

But the point I'm making here is that I've already flown in vintage aircraft. I might be at the end of my lucky rope, so why tempt fate any more than I have? After all, these World War II flying museums are more than 70 years old now, and even though I'm sure they get inspected from nose to tail, there's still that vision of an Illinois cornfield in the back of my mind. Metal fatigue, if nothing else, has to be a factor at some point, don't you think? How do you ask an airplane if it's tired?

Here is my ticket stub for my ride in an ancient Ford Trimotor back in 1972.
 The first time I ever flew was in a vintage airplane. This was back in 1972 and an aging Ford Trimotor, built in 1929, had come to the A-B-E Airport in Allentown, PA, near where I was living at the time. They were offering flights for $10. Oh, boy.

I grabbed my brother, paid our money (I was so excited I even sprung for David's ticket), and took a 20-minute flight that probably didn't get more than several hundred feet above the Lehigh Valley. I have it in my head that we probably didn't go any faster than 100 miles per hour, and it may have been even less than that. We did fly over our house, which gave me a whole new perspective on things. Maybe I was given a God's-eye view of my life, I don't know.

I have since learned that only 199 Ford Trimotors were ever built, and only 18 or so are still in existence. And of that number, only about eight or nine are still flying. Talk about metal fatigue... I'm not particularly afraid to fly, but after so many rides in old airplanes, I think enough is probably enough.

Here is a recent video of the very same Ford Trimotor that I flew in 40 years ago. I know it's the same plane because the tail number, N8407, is identical to the one on my ticket stub.  Enjoy the flight:




Sunday, August 31, 2014

Football from a different angle

Because of circumstances beyond my control, I covered a high school football game for The Dispatch Friday night from an unlikely (disad)vantage point:

The sidelines.

Normally, I'm safely perched in a press box, pen in one hand, binoculars in the other, jotting down yards gained, passes caught, penalties assessed.

It's what I've done for nearly 40 years on Friday nights in the fall.

On this particular night, however, the press box was full. I arrived about an hour before kickoff, fully expecting a large crowd in the stadium and wondering if I'd have a decent place to park my car.

It never occurred to me that I wouldn't have a place to sit. But the handful of seats generally reserved for the print media were being used by radio and Webcasters (a sign of the times?) instead.

So I used my fallback plan: walk the sidelines.

Some sports lend themselves to coverage outside of a press box: I've covered baseball, softball and basketball from the stands, or even standing courtside in SRO moments, happily (sort of) keeping up with my stats.

Football is not so easy. Try standing at the 18-yard line when the quarterback unleashes a 33-yard pass; try counting off the yards on a 36-yard punt while running from the line of scrimmage to the punt returner; try following the game when you are standing on one sideline and the action is going on at the far sideline of a crowned field (was he inbounds? I dunno). Then try doing all this when you're 63 years old and it's 85 degrees on a late August night and heavily armored football players are bearing down on you while you're trying to do addition and subtraction in your head and the band is blaring away in your left ear.

It's not the best way to cover a football game. I think it's why press boxes were invented. You know. For the press.

At any rate, there was one advantage to being on the sideline: I saw up-close just how huge these guys are. A player who is 6-foot-2 looks at least a foot taller when he's in his football gear. From the press box, these kids are chess pieces on a game board. From the sidelines, they're 17- and 18-year-old behemoths, many of whom are somehow college-ready players. It's awesome. And a revelation.

You also get to hear the sounds of the game — the crashing of pads, the grunts of gang tackles and the agony of leg cramps. It really adds depth and color to the game that you might not otherwise get from a press box.

Depth and color are nice, by the way. They help to make stories readable.

It's just that you better get the story in the first place.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Dreamer

What's become of my generation?

We children of the '60s, as I recall, were going to change everything that was wrong with the world. We were prompted by an ugly war in Asia to wage a lasting peace; we were going to live in communes growing our own organic food and where love was free (but never cheap); we were going to forsake materialism as best as we could, living off the land in our frayed blue jeans, tie-dyes and red bandannas, or else make an honorable living by altruistically helping others as doctors, farmers or folk singing musicians.

And we were all going to get along. That idea — that idealism — underscored everything, it seemed.

It sounded good at the time.

Now, decades later, with Ferguson, MO, sending us faded signals from a distant — but not too distant — era that righteous civil disobedience begets the change we seek. And, historically, it almost always has. A part of me feels we've come a long way in race relations in my own lifetime; another part of me is wondering when we're going to take the meaningful crucial step.

The war in Asia has been replaced by conflict in the Middle East, fueled by extremism, arrogance and culture clash.

Wall Street has become more important to maintaining our 401k's than Ventura Highway ever did in maintaining our dreams. So much for forsaking materialism when your retirement is hanging in the balance.

Perhaps we took a questionable turn somewhere along the way and we probably never knew we did. Each time we nobly try to rise above our own human nature ("human nature" can explain a lot our actions, if not actually excuse those actions), human nature reaches up to pull us back down by the ankles.

The idealism of my generation that was going to change everything surrendered to unrelenting reality, which I guess was inevitable.

At least, I think, we made a decent attempt to change the world. If nothing else, we got some great music out of it. And Star Trek.

I've been thinking out loud here, so excuse me if I think I can carry some of that idealism with me still. Changing the world is clearly asking for too much and I don't mean to be preachy about it. But maybe I can nudge myself to head in a different direction, similar to the one I — we — saw in the 60s. Maybe it'll turn out to be that it's the direction in which we travel that actually matters.




Monday, August 18, 2014

The $30 tip

It's finally happening. I think my stitching is starting to come a little loose around the edges.

Inevitable, I suppose.

We were enjoying our Angus beef hot dogs and brew at the Town Tavern in Blowing Rock. The Tavern is a restaurant on Main Street that used to be Tijuana Fats several reincarnations ago. I loved Tijuana Fats back in the day, especially the location in downtown Greensboro. The arroz con pollo there was unbeatable and it still remains a tasty memory all these years after the business closed its doors.

Kim and I still have discussions about Tijuana Fats' arroz con pollo.

The Fats in Blowing Rock, by contrast, was never as good as its sister locations, I thought.

And neither were the succession of restaurants that followed in the same building. At least two, maybe three other restaurants have tried and failed there. All within about 10 years or less.

The Tavern, however, seems to have it right. It's a sports bar that offers comfort food at reasonable prices. It's not a place that's trying to be something it's not by throwing in some goat cheese on its franks wrapped in toasted ciabatta or red-eye gravy on its pub chips.

So I thoroughly enjoyed my hot dog, which was longer in size than the usual frank and maybe a little shorter than a footlong. It was good. Very good.

When we finished our meal, the waitress brought our check. It was for something like $16.40, and I thought a twenty would cover the meal as well as provide a nice (20 percent) tip. So I absently pulled a bill from my wallet.

"Are you sure about this?" asked the waitress.

"Sure," I thought to myself. "You did a good job. Twenty per cent is about right."

"Yeah," I actually said.

"You just made my day," she said and happily pranced away.

"Uh-oh," I thought to myself again, my something's-not-right detector finally raised.

"What did you give her?" quizzed my wife, a former bank employee who knows a thing or two about money matters.

I checked my wallet again. Air rushed out of my lungs. I'd totally forgot about the $50 bill I had in there, innocently hiding behind my twenties. I don't usually carry fifties; I don't much like them and unless you're making a big purchase, like paying for a motel room, there's not much use for them, I think. Plus, the "50" on the bill kind of looks like a "20" at first glance. Try it sometime if you don't believe me. At least, try it when you're 63 years old.

At any rate, I leaped from my bar stool like I was ejected from an F-100. I found the waitress, standing with one of her colleagues. I could just imagine the conversation they were about to have.

"Ma'am," I said, and she turned to me. Then she smiled. I didn't have to say another word.

"I was pretty sure you didn't mean to give me that," she said.

"I wish I could," I said, and we exchanged the fifty for a twenty, making everything right, including the tip I meant to give her. I felt embarrassed for myself and sorry for her, mostly because I'm sure I just unmade her day.

She was incredibly understanding, though. I guess she could see the stitching coming apart.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Summer of fun

This was different.

There's been a lot of activity in our neighborhood in the past month or so. Two different families have bought houses on our block and are engaged in the moving-in process.

One of the families, in particular, caught my attention. It was because of all the vehicles that suddenly showed up. From all over. A quick glimpse of license plates revealed cars from Connecticut, Kentucky, South Carolina and maybe another state or two that I've since forgotten. Maybe Illinois. There almost always seems to be a car from Illinois.

There might have been six or seven vehicles in all parked in front of the house...and down the street.

Wha.....???

"What a family," I thought to myself. "They move in and extended family members come in from all over the country to help out. That's awesome."

Well, not quite.

Turns out, the family moved in from a house just a few blocks away. All the out-of-state cars belonged to college baseball players who were playing for the HiToms in the wooden bat Coastal Plain League.

Originally, there were five players, I think, who were staying with Pam and Jason Zanni as the Zannis opened their home to them this summer as an uncompensated host family.

"What a family," I thought to myself, wondering what kind of people open their home to virtual strangers for nearly two months. For free. "Unique people," I thought to myself.

The number of players was whittled down to three by August, and a few days ago, the HiToms lost in the first round of the CPL playoffs. So now all the players are gone.

The HiToms wear traditional uniforms, with stirrups and sanitary socks.
Part of me is actually sad. On the Fourth of July, I covered my first HiToms game for The Dispatch, where I am a contract writer getting paid by the story.

I surprised myself by how much I enjoyed the game, which was played in friendly Finch Field in Thomasville. With the rest of The Dispatch sports staff tied up covering the American Legion baseball state tournament, I gladly worked the HiToms the rest of the summer. I think I ended up staffing seven of their home games down the stretch.

I was excited by the quality of play. The pitching could be superior, at times. So could the hitting. In 58 games, the HiToms knocked out 50 home runs. In one game — the Fourth of July game — I saw two players hit two home runs each. One player, Austin Crutcher, ended up leading the league with 12 taters.

I was impressed with the players. Post-game interviews were peppered with "Yes, sir" and "No, sir" in their candid responses. Coach Austin Love, in particular, was thoughtful and engaging in his remarks. Mostly, as a journalist, you run into people wanting to cover up blemishes. Not here, and I appreciated that.

I also appreciated the simple things, like the HiToms wearing exposed stirrups and sanitary socks with their uniforms and not pant leggings whose hems trailed in the dirt. They looked, well, like baseball players. I'm an old-school fan and stuff like this goes right to the heart of the game. My heart, too.

Baseball season is over. For the first time in a while, I can't wait until next year.




Sunday, August 3, 2014

Legionnaire disease

A few days have passed since the North Carolina American Legion baseball tournament concluded at Lexington's venerable Holt-Moffitt Field, with Shelby Post 82 ending up as the nominal state champion.

I say "nominal" because, on the field, where it should count, Shelby suffered two losses in the double elimination tournament. One of those losses was a 12-5 decision to Thomasville Post 87 last Saturday. The other was an 8-1 loss to Gaston.

But as the result of a protest, a couple of appeals and a curious — at best — ruling from the American Legion Baseball national office in Indianapolis, IN, Thomasville Post 87 was disqualified from the tournament for supposedly using an ineligible player, catcher Cesar Trejo.

Here's where it gets a little dicey, blurry and odorous all at once.

Shelby filed a protest alleging Trejo was ineligible because of his participation in something called the 2014 Under Armour Showcase: Baseball Factory's Team One South in Peachtree City, GA., on July 11-12.

Trejo only participated in baseball skills and did not play in any games. It's not as if he was a ringer waiting in the wings. That didn't matter to the American Legion, saying he was supposedly committing "dual participation" by attending the non-Legion event.

It's an event that the American Legion apparently sanctions, by the way. The American Legion receives $30,000 per year from Baseball Factory to provide names and addresses of players to showcase their talents to college coaches and scouts. American Legion sanctions only two bodies: Baseball Factory and Baseball USA. So what's the problem?

But it gets weirder. Shelby filed the protest after Saturday's game, saying it learned of Trejo's alleged transgression after Post 82 returned to its motel.

Huh? That soon? What, was there a note on the door? A timely email? A voicemail? Huh?

The suddenness of this protest, seemingly out of thin air, appears to be evidence in itself of supposed prior knowledge waiting to be sprung at the most propitious moment.

While that little nugget smells fishy enough, it should also be noted that tournament coaches and athletic directors were given an opportunity in a meeting on Thursday, before the tournament began, to question the eligibility of any player on any roster. Nobody spoke up. That, logically, should have been the end of it right there. No surprises. Door closed.

But, surprise anyway.

Thomasville athletic director Greg Suire eventually filed two appeals with the American Legion national office, and both were denied.

The American Legion response — coming from an office 600 miles away from Holt-Moffitt Field — was curious, at best.

In an article from The Dispatch, American Legion baseball national director Mike Buss said, "They could be partnering with American Legion. But I can also tell you that nowhere in the contract that we have with Baseball Factory is the company Under Armour. That's an issue that the lawyers can discuss.

"That is something that lawyers need to discuss, I'm not gonna get into what is sanctioned and what is not sanctioned," Buss added. "That is a situation that lawyers could talk about, and I can't really offer any more on that."

Well, that's pretty lame. Sounds like double-talk semantics. Furthermore, as national director, Buss better be darn sure what his organization sanctions and what it doesn't, otherwise debacle will follow travesty every time.

Even now, it looks as though the American Legion office is essentially ruling against itself. Oh, my.

And did you notice Buss used the word "lawyers" three times? Yikes. Youth baseball and lawyers. Mercy. If that's what we're coming down to, then I think we're all missing the point.

There's one more curiosity here. The American Legion World Series is held, annually, in Shelby. You don't suppose Shelby got that favorable ruling from the American Legion office because Shelby hosts the American Legion World Series with a state-of-the-art facility, do you? Nah. Of course not. Doesn't look like that at all.

What it does look like from here is a royal theft of Post 87's hopes and dreams. It looks like Post 82 will do anything it can to win a title, preferring even a clerical championship if it can't win one on the field. How satisfying is that? And it looks like the national office, swimming in conflicts of interest, is holding hands with the recipient of its favorable ruling.

Sad, sad, sad.



                                              






Sunday, July 27, 2014

Civil War name game

I was reading yet another Civil War book not too long ago —a speculation that the South could have won if it had followed Stonewall Jackson's vision to attack the North's infrastructure as opposed to what actually happened, which was the South's following Robert E. Lee's insistence that Southern independence depended on destroying the Army of the Potomac in costly battles of attrition — when it occurred to me why this totally American war is rather difficult for most Americans to grasp.

It's the names involved.

No. Really. It can get confusing in a hurry.

For example, one of the early commanders of the Union army was a fellow named Irvin McDowell. He lost the war's first major battle at Manassas, VA., a place really not that far from a village called McDowell.  The Battle of McDowell, as it turns out, was won by Stonewall Jackson a year later, in May, 1862, during his Shenandoah Valley campaign.

I'm pretty sure McDowell, the guy, was never in McDowell, the town. Thank goodness for small miracles.

I've learned that when you're in the Shenandoah, you go "up the Valley" when you're heading south, and "down the Valley" when you're headed north. It's because of the physical lay of the land and river flow, and not because of the way it looks or feels on a map. Jackson, for example, went down the Valley on his way north to Cedar Mountain prior to Second Manassas.

I almost quit my Civil War studies right then, my logic being, well, logical, and apparently, all bets are off in the Shenandoah.

And wait a minute. There was a Second Manassas? More than one? Yep. Right there at Bull Run. Same place. Except, early in the war, the Confederates named their battles for nearby towns, while the Union named them for geographic features. That confusion pretty much stopped by 1863, otherwise, the struggle in Gettysburg well might be named for a lazy little creek and consequently Lincoln might have delivered the Willoughby Run Address. Not quite the same impact there.

Confederates call the Battle of Antietam "Sharpsburg," while Seven Pines (part of the Seven Days Battles — I know — in the Peninsula Campaign) is also known as Fair Oaks, while White Oak Swamp is also called Glendale. Or Frayser's Farm.

I have a headache.

We all know the Confederate president was Jefferson F. Davis. Did you know there was a Union brigadier general named Jefferson C. Davis? No relation. The Yankee Davis had a distinguished career going for him — he helped win the Battle of Pea Ridge — until he shot and killed his superior general, Bull Nelson, in an argument in late 1862. That incident, no doubt, would have delighted Jefferson F. Davis, if he was ever made aware of it. Somehow, Yankee Davis — who was a capable general — avoided charges in the murder and continued his service. He ultimately ended up stationed in Alaska after the war, never promoted, the army being the army in its infinite wisdom.

John B. Gordon was a Confederate general at the Battle of Willoughby Run, but another Rebel general, James B. Gordon, was not. Neither was Confederate general George W. Gordon, who went on to help found the Ku Klux Klan after the war. George Gordon Meade, however, was the Union general who directed the Yankees to victory at Willough... never mind.

J.E.B. Stuart was a famous Confederate cavalry commander (not Calvary, by the way), but Gen. George H. Steuart also led Confederate horsemen in the war. He was called "Maryland" Steuart so as not to be verbally confused with JEB.

I'm not sure I even want to consider A.P. Hill and D.H. Hill, two Confederate generals who served Lee well. D.H. Hill ended up as Stonewall's brother-in-law, which may or may not add to the confusion. A.P. Hill lost his girlfriend, Ellen Marcy to future battlefield opponent and former West Point roommate George B. McClellan. Umm, McDowell. No, McClellan. That turned out to be a good thing for Ellen, because ol' A.P. dealt with a bout of gonorrhea in his Cadet days.

Edwin Stanton was Lincoln's Secretary of War, but I'm almost positive Stanton never visited Staunton (pronounced "Stanton"), VA., which was an important Confederate supply depot and transportation center up — no, wait, down — no, up — in the Valley.

You can't make this stuff up and it just goes on and on. Alexander "Sandie" Pendleton was a capable and respected staff officer for Jackson, but his father, William Nelson Pendleton, was Lee's ineffectual if not incompetent chief of artillery.

And don't forget Albert Sidney Johnston and Joseph E. Johnston, two Confederate generals who were not related. Albert was in the western theater and died at the Battle of Shiloh. Joseph was wounded at the Seven Days — two months after A.S. was killed — and was replace by some guy named Lee.

I've been told that I could be a good teacher of the Civil War, or maybe a battlefield guide in my retirement. But I think not. I'm probably better off simply reading books about the war and popping Tylenol.





Friday, July 25, 2014

Coach Crim

Perhaps one of the most difficult moments in Kent Crim's life was when he stepped down as the boys' basketball coach at West Davidson.

It was about the only time I ever saw him perturbed, outside of the occasional bonehead call by a referee.

Kent Crim shows off his 200th victory basketball.
It was 1990 and Crim was already in the fourth year of his Parkinson's Disease diagnosis — a 28-year struggle that would gradually envelop and consume him until he died last Saturday at the age of 69.

Crim cited "widening" philosophical differences between him and the school administration over the direction of a team that had gone 235-194 over 17 seasons, including an appearance in the state championship game in 1984 which resulted in a heartbreaking 73-68 loss to Hobbton.

But the team was 61-83 over Crim's last six years and I think even Crim knew it was time for a change — even though his son, Jonathan, was coming up through the system and Crim wanted a chance to coach his son.

But it never happened.

"The bottom line is that we haven't won in the last few years," said Crim in a story in The Dispatch. "And if a coach lacks passion and enthusiasm, and it's no longer fun, then it's best to get out of it."

Life sometimes can take some unfair detours and I guess what matters is how we negotiate those sharp, sudden curves. Crim, armed with a practical intelligence and a wry sense of humor, was well-equipped for the journey. I knew him not only as a friend, but as an English-teaching coach and guidance counselor who would occasionally quote Shakespeare, or Faulkner, or Fitzgerald after a game. That was certainly different.

Even in the story announcing his resignation as coach, Crim couldn't resist: "I don't think you'll find anybody, anywhere, who treated his players better than I did," said Crim. "If Kent Crim has one fault, it's like Othello, who loved not wisely, but too well."

See what I mean?

I was sports editor of the paper at the time and I was always on the lookout for qualified correspondents to help us cover games. Crim seemed like a logical choice and he readily accepted. Although the Parkinson's prevented him from using a keyboard — he would dictate the copy to his wife, Jane, who would type the story on the computer for publication. The two of them together, with sometimes opposing views of what happened in the game, resulted in some memorable evenings at The Dispatch office (humorously, Jane was petrified of computers) — he actually did a pretty good job for us.

For some reason, life kept being unfair to Crim. He lost Jane to cancer 10 years ago, when she was just 58. Meanwhile, his Parkinson's got progressively worse and he closed out his years at Alston Brook nursing facility, surrounded by old friends, and new ones.

I wrote a column about Crim after West Davidson christened its basketball floor as "Crim Court" in 2008, and I ended it with a quote from Hamlet.

I tried searching for another acceptable quote for this blog, but nothing is better for the moment than the one I used back then:

"He was a man, take him for all in all,
"I shall not look upon his like again."
                   - Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 2





Sunday, July 20, 2014

A 50-year marriage

Kim and I went to the 50th anniversary celebration of some friends of ours in Burlington Saturday evening.

There were about 80 people there, including a handful of folks we knew other than the anniversary couple. And even though we got to the restaurant about 15 minutes early, most of the invitees had already arrived and claimed their seats. Consequently, we ended up sitting at a table with complete strangers.

I can't remember the last time I went to a golden anniversary, if ever. But a couple of epiphanies greeted me almost as soon as I walked into the room. The first, of course, was just how long 50 years is, especially in a human lifespan. The second was just how fast 50 years can fly. After congratulating Bill and Cathy on their milestone, Kim and I moseyed over to a table that displayed their wedding photos, wedding announcements, newspaper clippings and even their cake topper from July 1964.

Bill and Cathy — then and now.
It was the photos that really slapped me upside the head — they documented the journey in time the two of them have shared. Subliminally, I was compelled to reflect on my own journey through time and the trip we all make — of aging, surviving, of friends and family. I was thinking these thoughts without consciously thinking of them, if that's possible. I guess it is. Epiphany.

Bill and Cathy have fared particularly well over the years. Both are still as slim as their wedding day. Both appear to be in reasonably good health — not a cane, walker or wheelchair in sight. Both are still sharp as tacks. Bill, in fact, has a penchant for telling corny jokes and loves to laugh more than anything, I think. Except when he's trying to make someone else laugh.

After a nice buffet meal, it was time to cut the anniversary cake. Almost unbelievably, the woman who cut their wedding cake 50 years ago — as well as their 25th anniversary cake — once more performed the honors. Holy smokes.

Plans were made for her to be at the 75th anniversary.

But that wasn't all. The bakery that made their wedding cake 50 years ago is still in business — and made the cake we enjoyed last night. It was, said Bill, only the second 50th anniversary cake they've ever made. "I'm kind of proud of that," said Bill.

I looked around me and realized that a remarkably large number of people there were also present at the wedding 50 years ago. I'm not sure what my epiphany was there, but I was amazed. Maybe the water is better in Mebane, I don't know. But it was noteworthy.

Near the end of the evening several people got up to tell a story or two about the anniversary couple, which threatened to turn the celebration into a roast, but it never really got that far. In fact, only a few people got up to say something.

Apparently, it's not easy to roast Bill and Cathy.

Then Bill rose. I expected another corny joke. Instead, I saw a side of the man I never saw before. I saw him publicly tell the world, in a trembling voice, he's eternally thankful for the woman who's shared his life for 50 years. Tears rolled down his face. Tears rolled down mine. He told us he's a wealthy man, a millionaire, not because of money, but because his friends have given him a wealth far more than money.

I glanced at Kim, who didn't see me glance at her. We'll be married 34 years in October. No epiphany here: I'm a rich man.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Wehrle facsimiles

Every once in a while, just to amuse myself, I google my name — Bruce Wehrle — just to see what I'm up to these days.

Almost without fail, I get links to various blog posts I've entered, some of them going back several years. I also get hits for some columns I wrote — maybe from as far back as 10 years ago — when I was a sports writer/editor for The Dispatch. Finding this stuff, in this manner, should serve as a warning for all of us — anything you put on the Internet just doesn't go away.

But that's OK. There's some fun stuff here, too.

For example, on this latest search, I came across the Parkhotel Wehrle, located in a place called Treiberg, Germany.

The 400-year-old Parkhotel Wehrle — my kind of place.
 Thanks to some genealogical research by my father decades ago, we knew about something called the Hotel Wehrle, which we thought was some quaint hostel in Baden Baden, an incredibly scenic region of western Germany in the Black Forest where Wehrles were thought to originate (the Wehrle surname is rather uncommon. There's only several thousand of us worldwide, I'm told, so bumping into another Wehrle is something like having an epiphany. Well, at least it is to other Wehrles, I guess.) We also saw a picture of the hotel in some travel magazine once, and I have to tell you, it really looked inviting.

Thanks to the Internet, I learned the correct name of the place is the Parkhotel Wehrle, and it's loaded with history (see here). I mean, it's 400 years old. It's older than the United States. Napoleon Bonaparte slept there while conquering Europe. And it's a well-regarded five-star inn to boot.

Now I'm kind of wondering if any Wehrles are operating the joint. Maybe there's a cousin Horst running around taking reservations. That would be cool. Maybe I'd have a place to stay if I ever got to Germany.

Because Wehrles come from the Black Forest region, I sometimes wondered if there were ever any cuckoo clock makers among us.

Don't laugh. I googled "Wehrle clocks" once and came up with a site that told me about vintage Wehrle clocks dating back to 1815 that were built to German precision. Wehrle chronometers, in fact, were especially highly regarded. Heck, I'd never even heard of Wehrle clocks before, and now all this.

I once thought I'd like to have a Wehrle alarm clock and get a couple to send off to my brothers for Christmas presents. But I acted too slowly. The company apparently hit a bad patch and sold itself to Chinese interests in 1997. Now, instead of clocks featuring mechanical precision, they are said to be battery operated digital devices. My interest in them now wanes.

I did find this (see here) about Emilian Wehrle. I suspect there might be a family tie somewhere, but who knows? Maybe I can research Emilian while staying at the posh Parkhotel Wehrle.

There are times when a Google investigation might reveal too much information. I did find a Bruce Wehrle in Raleigh who owned a 1966 white Mustang convertible, just like we did. That was neat. Until he died and then "Bruce Wehrle" showed up in an obituary.

I also found this Bruce Wehrle (see here). Uh-oh. Alleged criminal activity by a Wehrle never occurred to me before. And the fact that we share the same exact name is a little unnerving, especially when a search of Wehrle's residence in Middletown, New Jersey, "revealed a small quantity of crystal methamphetamine, two shotguns, a handgun and approximately $3,000.00 cash."

A search of my residence would reveal a Ragdoll cat, medication for my a-fib and loose change amounting to $9.57 cash.

At this point I decided it was time to quit my research. I was uncertain what else I might find.




Sunday, July 6, 2014

Kim Church's 'Byrd'

My reading list suddenly took an unexpectedly local turn a few weeks ago.

A friend of mine, Lexington native Kim Church, was appearing in a Greensboro bookstore to give a reading from her debut novel "Byrd." My wife and I missed her Saturday afternoon reading at the library in Lexington a month earlier because of a nap that lasted longer than it should have. Hey, at our age, naps give no warning until it's way too late.

Kim Church
But we didn't want to miss out, so when Kim's wide-ranging book tour came to Greensboro, we posted little reminders about it around the house. And this time we made it.

Let me explain something first. While I love to read, I'm mostly a history and sports guy. I do enjoy spellbinding fiction — "To Kill a Mockingbird" comes quickly to mind, not to mention a little Stephen King or G.R.R. Martin now and then — but new fiction better be pretty darn riveting to capture my sometimes driftwood attention span.

And I had my doubts. I wasn't sure how a coming-of-age novel, written by a woman about a small-town North Carolina girl, was going to resonate with a guy who grew up reading Sports Illustrated while taking side trips to Gettysburg.

I should have known better. I've known Kim since the late 1970s, when I first came to Lexington to write for The Dispatch and she was friends with the paper's then-photographer Gareth Wetherill. Both of them more or less took me in when I was young and new to the area, and for which I am forever grateful.

But you could see something smoldering in Kim even then. She went on to become a successful Raleigh-based lawyer, but written words were her burning avocation. She's crafted poetry that has appeared in such publications as Painted Bride Quarterly, Shenandoah and Mississippi Review.

Somehow, "Byrd" took hold inside her, resulting in a project whose seeds were sown for the creation of her primary character, Addie Lockwood, as long ago as 1998.

Kim artfully paints pictures with her words. Witness this on page 8 as she deliciously describes Addie's friend Shelia:

"In fourth grade she sits next to Shelia DeLapp and watches her practice her cursive: the slow, fat letters; the way Shelia bites her tongue when she writes; the way her hands sweat and make the notebook paper bubble up. At the end of every word, Shelia lifts her pencil off the page and rolls it around in her fingers to redistribute her weight on the lead.

"Shelia spells her name with the L before the I, prettier than the way most people spell it, even though she pronounces it the same. She-la."

Nuance. Detail. And some by-golly I-never-thought-of-that insight. These are some of the tools that writers use to bring their truth to storytelling. Some have it. Some don't. Kim does. Clearly.

Here's another example as she writes about Addie's middle-age relationship with William, a muralist:

"At forty-one, Addie is taking soy vitamins for hot flashes. She rinses her hair with henna to color the gray.

"William is forty-three and wears gel inserts in his shoes.

"Neither of them thinks of love the way they used to, as something to be fallen into, like a bed or a pit. It isn't big and deep and abstract. Love is particulate. It's fine. It accumulates like dust."

Holy cow. That's me speaking now, a different kind of writer making my own insight here. Holy cow is the best I can do because my own words escape me. See me nodding my head in awe. Some passages in this book read almost like poetry anyway. Holy cow.

Positive reviews seem to be following "Byrd" around, including those from New York Times bestselling authors Ron Rash and Jill McCorkle, as well as others like Patricia Henley, Debra Monroe and Angela Davis-Gardner.

"Byrd" may not be a story for everybody. Addie has a child outside of marriage and puts it up for adoption. But then Addie writes letters to the child she'll never meet. It's the letters that sometimes give compelling counterpoints and punctuation to the storyline. It's a novel of choices made and not made.

I'm not sure where "Byrd" puts Kim in the realm of Lexington authors, but I'm guessing she's going to be a hard act to follow in any event.

That's my insight.