REMEMBERING LEROY


He was a familiar sight running past our house each day, useless, withered arm swinging at his side. He ran as if it was a challenge to the Almighty in payment for the curse of his loss. I encountered him once or twice at 5:30 a.m. while running with Max, our Dobermann. We would see him later in the day at the other end of town. I heard that he sometimes ran 25 miles in a day. He worked out daily in a lap pool in his small back yard. He and his wife lived around the corner from us with a menagerie of pets, while caring for each of their parents. His father in a wheelchair and her blind mother.

The name “SPRINZ” was written on the back of his t-shirt, reminding my husband of former major league baseball catcher Joe Sprinz, who played for the Cleveland Indians and the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1930’s. His claim to fame after he retired, was a publicity stunt attempting to catch a baseball dropped from a blimp in 1939. On the fifth try, the ball landed in his glove at a speed estimated to have been 154 miles per hour. It slammed his glove hand into his face, breaking his jaw in twelve places. He also dropped the ball.

Joe’s son Leroy, our intrepid runner, lived around the corner from us for many years. Though I had not really met him, he knocked on my door one morning asking if he could leave his father here while he finished his run. Not knowing what else to do, I said it would be OK. What led was a fascinating hour while the old man reminisced about stories of his baseball past to us. All the famous names in the years of our youth came back to him. He also recounted the story of Leroy’s withered arm. He had had polio as a youngster, and though the doctors wanted to amputate the arm, the boy fought to keep it, saying he would figure out a way to live with it.

He became a teacher at Newark Memorial High School in Newark, CA, and while teaching tennis and baseball, he played in the school band. Proficient with a variety of instruments, refusing to let an obstacle such as the loss of an arm stop him. Much like his father, he obviously enjoyed overcoming challenges.

After retiring, Leroy and his wife, Lory Ostenkowski, moved to Oakhurst a few years ago, to enjoy their leisure years in the company of tall pine trees and deer in the mountains near Yosemite. Both were prolific writers of poetry and haiku, and were generous with their output. Leroy also found time to play in the local community band while indulging his interest in photography, and running the mountain trails.

Leroy was a trusted critic of my work, approving of my blog, though he hated the word BLOG, thinking it ugly and an embarrassment to the English language. His wife Lory, became a victim of AMD, and he greatly enlarged any artwork I posted on their large TV so that she could share it.

I had not heard from him for several months, and sent an email to see if they were OK. Last night I decided that I would write again this morning. Before I went to my computer, his widow Lory, called to tell us of his passing two months ago. According to her, the polio got him again. Post-polio, which affects many survivors, renews all the original suffering. Their daughter, who lives in Alaska, found the note I sent while clearing out his computer after his death.

Leroy was a quirky, courageous and rare person who will be greatly missed. The legacy he left was that nothing is impossible to those who keep forging through in spite of unforeseen difficulties. RIP Leroy, I’m glad I got to know you.

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THE CHILD


In those dark quiet hours of the night before sleep comes, our mind travels over many miles, exploring and revisiting memories from the past. Long dead relatives and friends come calling, often mixed in with an unfinished garden chore of that day. Vestiges of unrelated minutia crowd in to confuse and confound.

On nights when I fight my pillow and toss around like a tree in a windstorm, I remember all the beds I have slept or tried to sleep in. Moving often, as I did as a child, made me an expert bed tester. I mostly slept with my mother when my father was at sea, rarely having a bed of my own. When at Auntie’s, I slept on a cot in her sewing room, looking out the dark window at a few twinkling stars, and listening for the sound of a faraway train, while counting each chime of the old clock outside my door.

After moving to Connecticut, I often listened to the sound of the radio from another room, and joined the realistic panic after listening to Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds”, or “The Battle of the Sexes” radio show. Later, during the War, while staying with Aunt Hazel, my mother and I shared a makeshift bed in their common room, all of us listening to the Richfield Reporter give us the latest news of the War, and wondering where my father was that night. The summer we were with them, my mother and I slept one night outdoors in an open field counting shooting stars in August.

On a recent sleepless night, I was confronted in my mind’s eye with a child standing quietly while gazing around her in a tentative way. She simply stood in the middle of the room looking over at a piano which stood against one wall, and then at the many books on shelves in an alcove. She made no move to walk over to either, nor did she ask permission to either play the piano or read a book. She exhibited no interest in what the others in the room were doing, and seemed not to care that she was not a part of it. She simply stood alone in the middle of it all.

She was about eight years old, with a short Dutch cut hairdo, and dressed in the style of the 1930’s; cotton dress with puffed sleeves, and black patent leather Mary Jane shoes. As I wondered who she was and where she had sprung from, I recognized my mother, Grandmother and Aunt Georgia greeting one another with hugs and kisses, and I realized the child was me. I was being delivered to Auntie’s for another extended stay. I don’t remember if I had a little travel case, or what I often brought with me when I came to stay.

While recognizing this, it made me wonder just what my thoughts had been on the many times I came to visit. Was I happy to come, or sorry to leave Grandma’s house. I think I simply went where I was taken without any drama. Surely I loved Auntie and knew she felt the same, after all, I had been taken there since I was a baby in arms, while my mother would take a job. Remember that it was the Great Depression, and jobs were not easy to find and keep if you had few skills.

The great love affair of my parents lasted throughout their lives, though they were separated through a great deal of it due to the call of the United States Navy. When his ship came in, and she found it possible, she traveled to where he was. I was fortunate
to have a loving Grandma and my dear Auntie, though I sometimes wondered if Uncle Phil was as thrilled to have me.

Looking back at the child, I saw that she/I, though not shy, politely waited on the sidelines, deciding whether to sit or wait to see what the rest of them did. When I realized that, I saw that though not an introvert, I really DO wait to see how the land lies when in a new or different situation. Perhaps this is what the child came to show me. We do not change very much through the years. We are what we have always been, only more so.

I was an only, though not lonely child. Being alone most of the time, I created my own fun or amusement. We did not live near other children, and moved so often I did not make friends easily until my high school years. Those friends are still with me after all these years and we meet once a month in Alameda. I am frequently reminded by those women of some of the wild or risky things I apparently got them into. Perhaps the quiet introspective child was simply biding her time and plotting all those quiet years. Or maybe she was simply weighing her options. Either way I’m glad she showed up the other night. It was good to meet her again.

Through the years, most of us cove a lot of territory during the night hours. No one has come up with a foolproof way to get and stay asleep, but as long as we can recapture the scenes of our life while safe in our beds it’s a nice end to the day.

MOSTLY TRUE


Some said they would come back as horses, my husband thought he could be a giraffe, most said they’d be some sort of cat; but I noticed that no one chose the dog, and I don’t know why.

The horse, by tradition, lives outdoors rain or shine and gets sat upon by people large and sometimes larger. I asked my husband why a giraffe, and he thought it would be nice to look over high fences. I wonder if this is indicative of some sort of perverse peeping Tom syndrome. The cat people are nice for the most part, though prone to play hide and seek often, and I was never any good at that game, because I’d always make enough noise so they would be sure to find me. When they got to me I chose the dog because I can’t imagine a life without dogs, and dogs know about things children and old people need.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that there are no guard giraffes or cats, though cats sometimes earn their keep by good will hunting. The various ways a dog hunts is not always with good will. Watching a Border Collie at work shows how it should be done; shoulders hunched, eyes squinted, a crawl on the belly while eyeballing the sheep, a quick dart, and the race is on. A Jack Russell Terrier, on the other hand, feels he needs to shout at them until they submit to him. He cannot be deterred from the chase, though to my knowledge never catches sight of his prey.

Do we as humans, carry similar animal traits? If a dog, I could choose to emulate our old German Shepherd or now, in later life, perhaps our Old English Sheepdog. In the first choice, I could be alert, a little intimidating, loyal and protective. As a Sheepdog I could just take it slow and easy and enjoy life while waiting for my next meal. I could do that.

I wonder if I was a Jack Russell as a young woman—barking a lot but not accomplishing much. On the other hand, Jack Russells are very smart, very intuitive. I WAS a fast learner, and my father told me I had good common sense, so that’s a plus. I was low maintenance and put up a good appearance. I was great at parties and never embarrassed myself or my hostess, which is unlike the JRT I know who would enliven the party too much and has been known to do so. Which is why there are places for dogs and people like that.

When I die perhaps I’ll come back as a tree. It’s much less complicated.

MYSTERIES OF WOODWORKING


I am mechanically minded. I used to delight in following directions printed in tiny, obviously translated steps to put together a new tool or device. Going through each step to make sure it follows the instructions was like a jigsaw puzzle. As time went on, the written steps were not as clear, and the object did not operate as promised. The vernacular became less familiar, and a lot of time was wasted trying to determine what was intended if they had only written it in English.

Years ago we ordered a redwood picnic table which arrived in pieces. Not being one content to wait for the man of the family to put it together, I laid it out on our deck with instructions in hand and proceeded to put the screws in the holes and suddenly it became a large and handsome table. I was understandably quite proud of myself, though I’ll admit a bit miffed that the man of the house was off playing tennis with his buddies. I later learned that the other men were impressed that I had actually done the job. The frost began to form when I found that my husband had said that he had known I could do it. A great way to get out of a job I’d say.

That was forty-five years ago, and the deck was replaced with a large family room shortly afterward. The table lived for a time under a pavilion at one end of the garden, obtaining a coat of white paint at one point, and joined by eight chairs. One summer we were seduced by a metal garden set with comfortable upholstered chairs and a built-in BBQ pit in the table. Quite handsome really. But what to do with the old table? Something that large and heavy is hard to get someone else to take home. As it was lying on its side and being rolled from one end of the yard toward an exit, it came to rest between a very large 50 year old orange tree and a lovely large fig tree. It seemed to feel at home there and it may have planned the move all along. You can’t trust old things. In its current and more convenient home, it has given us pleasure for many repasts, party and pick up. I wonder if it has a memory of its humble beginnings? Last Sunday on Mother’s Day, it hosted a crab quiche, fresh berries, and a delicious shortcake made by our grandson, while we brunched in the garden overflowing with roses and hummingbirds.