McBride At Rest

McBride At Rest

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Rory's Home

New Grandson Rory was born at noon on Monday and came home at noon on Wednesday-yesterday. Here he and I are, still in the hospital, meeting each other. I think I was paying more attention than he was. 

 Now, I’m sitting in my son’s nice two-story house in a Dallas suburb watching how new baby Rory is an instant change –agent, more powerful than a new boss in any office. 

In Defiant Honor, I awarded one of my favorite three-word sentences to Elizabeth McBee, who is the main character’s mother. She lives in Lexington, Virginia, a war zone. Her prodigal son brings home a pregnant woman, his new “wife,” seeking refuge for her. As the war drags on, two of Elizabeth’s slaves die violently. She is herself shot and carries an ugly scar on her temple. Her financial security is kaput. Her house is struck by a cannon ball, and invaded in the middle of the night by Union soldiers, one of whom she fatally shoots. Elizabeth McBee is a formidable grandmother. After all that, as Elizabeth comforts an odd young woman whose life has included even more unexpected turns than her own, Mrs. McBee hugs her and confesses, “I hate change.”

Don’t we all, at least every now and then, even if fleetingly, hate change. But life brings an endless series of unexpected changes. For better or worse, change is inexorable. Those poor folks who live where wars rage around them, whether in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in 1864, France in 1916, England in 1942, Iraq in 2001, or the Congo, Syria, or Afghanistan right now, surely have it the worse. Wars toss all the rules out the window, and those whose land and towns become battlegrounds, suffer.

Yet, we can’t stop studying war, writing novels about war, and going to see war movies. We profess to hate wars, but we are addicted to them. Why? Beats the hell out of me, but I’m one of the afflicted. 

Back to the here and now, Rory’s two sisters clearly love him, but we can already see the youngest sister, Violet, barely beyond her baby years herself, grappling with her changed status as the wee darling of the family. The first grader, Eva, is doing better, much to her parents’ relief.

This would be the place to shift into a post-election sermon about change, but I won’t. I’ve promised not to let politics seep into my blog posts.

I just took a break from the keyboard to cook bacon and eggs with granddaughter Violet. Her favorite part is cracking and dumping the raw eggs into the bowl.

Reminds me of the old quip about the chicken and the pig. When it’s time to prepare breakfast, the chicken is involved, but the pig, well, he’s committed. He’s all in, no more standing back to watch. I suppose the great American electorate decided to take on the role of the pig when we chose our next President. I mean, we’re all in, all committed, no going back. I just hope our new head chef keeps a sharp eye on the frying pan and doesn’t burn the bacon. Oops, I did preach, didn’t I. Sorry.

With the McBee Civil War saga a done deal, I’m briefly between writing projects. Which reminds me (yes, two ‘reminds’ in one blog post) of what granddaughter Eva asked me as we were waiting in the car drop-off line at her school yesterday. I told her that I had been a school principal once upon a time, and the astute first grader replied, “I know that. Why did you like being a school principal more than being a book writer?”

Since my sales have yet to reach to John Grisham or Jeff Shaara heights, I answered something about paying the bills. Then, it was time for her to get out. I went around the car, opened her door and helped her put on her massive backpack from which her lunch box dangled. With a guilty channeling of Forrest Gump, I called out as she trotted happily toward the front door, “I love you, Eva Rose.” And without turning she called back, “I love you too, Granddaddy.” What gets better than that to start a new day?

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Blog Post #100 and Defiant Honor

This is Blog Post #100.  A Roman C.  A Ben Franklin.  Ten tens.  Five score. 99+1.

#100 is a number that people celebrate. A Centennial Celebration.  A hundred of anything seems important because a person, an idea, or a nation stuck with something long enough to reach three digits. It’s taken me over two years to reach Blog Post #100, and I thank you for sticking with me, whenever you started reading my blog posts.

What better time than Blog Post #100 to shout out that I’ve finished Defiant Honor, the third and last novel in the McBee Civil War trilogy. I’m happy! I’m relieved! It’s a wrap. It’s in the can, as they say in the movie business. In fairy tales, they write, “And they all lived happily ever after.” In schmaltzy westerns, he and she ride off into the sunset, sorta like a Cialis ad, only not in bathtubs. In the book business, we type “Finis” or “The End.”

And I’ll ask for you, because I know you’re thinking it J: How does Defiant Honor end? Defiantly or meekly? Is the last chapter the last battle? Will the last page make me cry, or pump my fists like Rocky? Is the last sound a cannon’s roar or a mouse’s whimper? Are the characters who took us through three years of war, intrigue, and romantic entanglements still alive at the end of the third book? 

I’m not spoiling the book’s suspense by revealing the last chapter, or the last battle, but the last sentence in Defiant Honor reads,

“The painter was coming to finish the nursery walls that day, and she was still undecided on the color.”

Huh? Did Pollyanna join the McBee family? Painting nursery walls is not a very bellicose final statement to end three books, over a 1,000 pages of Civil War and family strife in the 1860’s. Nonetheless, I promise that the last sentence wraps up a whole lot of gritty war drama and saucy romance, and not everybody lives happily ever after.

I’m proud of the cover of Defiant Honor and owe a big thank you to the graphic designer, Karen Phillips. The cover might be considered busy in this era of bold simple book covers, designed to draw the eye as thumbnail size images on Amazon, America’s bookstore. The title letters are sure-enough bold. As for the two photos, they certainly project that the book is about the Civil War. The Confederate battle flag is still being carried forward, but is juxtaposed beneath several African-American Union soldiers celebrating under Old Glory. That cover design is not accidental. 1864 was not a happy year for the Confederacy and the soldiers of the 5th Texas Infantry.

Here’s the whole photo taken at a reenactment outside Richmond, Virginia a couple of years ago. I’m one of the captured Rebel reenactors kneeling in angst, while reenactors of the 22nd  Regiment of US Colored Troops (USCT) pump their weapons in the air in victory. Kudos to “embedded photographer” Jeff Cantrell for that striking photo.

A little more about the two race threads that run through Defiant Honor. Racism was rampant in the 1860’s. Many, if not most, Confederate soldiers hated the idea of ex-slaves and black freemen being good soldiers, of black men being on equal terms with them. The clashes between the “African-Yankee” regiments of the US Colored Troops and white Confederate regiments were brutal. Individual soldiers’ efforts to surrender were often ignored. Instead, the soldier who quit fighting was clubbed, shot, or bayoneted, sometimes with the epitaph “Remember Fort Pillow!” being shouted by both black soldiers wearing blue and white soldiers wearing gray.

Fort Pillow was the first publicized occasion of Confederate soldiers ignoring the universal “hands up” and killing black Union soldiers who tried to surrender. I’ve read Civil War soldiers’ memoirs from both black and white soldiers that mention both sides using “Remember Fort Pillow!” as a battle cry. It was an ugly facet of our Civil War that I’ve intentionally included in Defiant Honor.

The other race thread is that of Levi’s situation as young man with a white father who is also the man Levi must serve every day as his body servant. While John McBee eventually, reluctantly acknowledges the likelihood that he is the father of the young man who literally is his personal slave, they live in a society where that version of paternity mattered not one whit. One drop of Negro blood establishes an abyss between them over which no bridge could be built. Until John and Levi do so anyway. And that was my favorite part of writing the book. Slowly constructing the forbidden bridge between John and Levi McBee was immensely gratifying and more than offset writing the vicious battle scenes between white and black soldiers.

Since Defiant Honor just became available for sale on Amazon, and since Christmas is around the corner, here’s my once-a-book self-serving request that you consider buying a copy as a Christmas gift for someone. Or for yourself. My wife and I both think Defiant Honor is a good read—my best yet.

A Kindle download on Amazon cost $3.99. A paperback cost $14.99. Or, if you see me, ask for a paperback copy. There’s a face-to-face discount and no shipping charge. I carry copies around in my car trunk, like aspiring novelist John Grisham did before he became The John Grisham.

Here’s the link to my author’s page on Amazon where you can buy any of my novels, including Defiant Honor, in paperback or Kindle download:

Happy Thanksgiving to all y’all. Nita and I are expecting a new grandson anytime now, and are ready to lavish some lovin’ on the little guy, like butter on a hot roll.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Pop and Lieutenant Dan

Remember the movie Forrest Gump?  Remember Lieutenant Dan, Forrest’s infantry platoon leader in Vietnam? He who Forrest carries out of the jungle, while under enemy fire? He who loses both his legs?

Turns out that Gary Sinise, the actor who portrayed Lieutenant Dan, is an exceptional patriot in real life. He started a foundation that does remarkable things for veterans, active members of the armed services, and children of military service men and women.

This past week, I was my dad’s “guardian” on a trip deemed “Soaring Valor.” Pop and I joined 25 other World War II veterans from Louisiana and East Texas, all in their 90’s except for one guy who’s 104, as the honored guests of Gary Sinise--Lieutenant Dan, American Airlines, and Brookshire Grocery Stores. We were flown to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, and pampered like royalty for 48 hours.

Pampered means a charter flight to New Orleans on a brand new airplane. We were its first passengers. It smelled like a new car. The plane’s crew were volunteering their time, and both pilots had been military pilots.

We were met at the New Orleans airport by the museum’s starlets—The Victory Belles, dozens and dozens of uniformed active-duty service men and women, ROTC cadets, Boy Scouts, and just plain folks who lavished their praise and thanks on the old guys-and one old gal.

We boarded two chartered buses and followed a six-pack of New Orleans motorcycle officers who stopped the traffic at every corner like we were the President’s party. That happened every time we got on the buses. I need the phone number to get that escort service whenever I drive into Austin.

We stayed at the Hyatt Regency downtown, where the weekday breakfast buffet runs $30 a person. Nice joint. I had to be tutored on how to make the elevators work, since they had no floor-buttons to push to get up to our room floor. It’s a military secret, I can’t tell you.

The National World War II Museum is a must-see. It’s growing and is already incredible. The entry fee of about $30 is waived for all WWII vets, and a hoopla is made for every one of them who visits the museum, not just our 25 honored vets.

The museum did roll out the red carpet for our group, starting with a banquet the evening we arrived. We sat under four sparkling WWII American aircraft and next to a Sherman tank. Check out the photo of the Victory Belles singing the national anthem to start the evening. The CEO of the museum and Gary Sinise welcomed us.

The next morning we watched the very moving hour-long film narrated by Tom Hanks, and Gary Sinise providing the voice of the soldier’s favorite journalist, Ernie Pyle.

We were treated to a luncheon in the museum where the Victory Belles performed a terrific after-meal program of 1940’s songs, and sang Happy Birthday to the veteran whose 104th birthday it was. Know the famous (infamous) photo of Marilyn Monroe singing Happy Birthday to President Kennedy? That’s what this old vet looked like sitting in his wheelchair, surrounded by the much-more-modest Victory Belles crooning to him.

Mr. Sinise stayed right in the middle of the action during the whole trip, starting with serving the sack lunches on the plane, along with a vice-president of American Airlines, and the CEO of the Brookshire’s Grocery Store chain and his wife. 

When I had a chance to speak with Mr. Sinise, I thanked him, and offered that some famous people are willing to give their name to a good cause, some well-off people are willing to give their money, and others are willing to give their time, but not many people with recognizable names and deep pockets do all three.

My dad was in heaven. He turned out to be a good ice-breaker within the group, since he decided twenty years ago that no one is a stranger, and he loves to talk about his experiences as a ground crewman in the Army Air Corps in Europe during the war. Pop was a bombsight technician, and here’s a photo of him looking at a surviving Norton bombsight in the museum.

Here’s a last take-away from the trip: When does military rank cease to matter to military servicemen? It’s when they are in their 90’s and being honored as surviving veterans of World War II. For 48 hours I was right next to my dad while he chatted up the other two dozen veterans. Not one of them asked the other what rank he was during the war. They always asked the others what branch of the service they were in, and maybe where they served, and sometimes what they did, but never what rank the other was, nor did I hear any of them identify their own rank. It could have been colonels chatting with privates, or admirals with petty officers. I think that is a remarkable compliment to those old vets and to our country.

Heck, the whole trip was a compliment to our country, a much-needed little showcase of positive patriotism and appreciation from one generation to another--not the divisive partisan flag-waving our intense national election has forced on us.

The WWII sailor in this lovely photo is not a reenactor. He is one of the vets on the trip who wore his dress blues one day. He could still get all 14 buttons on his trousers done—and breathe.

 Hoorah for him, and the other two dozen veterans who loved the attention, and deserved it.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Betty Lou and the Thin Place Phone Booth

I used the term “thin place” in the dedication of my first novel, Whittled Away. I was referencing the US Soldier cemetery at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France. The same cemetery that starts and ends the wonderful WWII movie, Saving Private Ryan. I was saying that a thin place means a physical location where the living can most easily feel a connection with the dead. A place where the gap, or the wall, or the river between those of us still breathing, and those gone, is--thin.

Churches and cemeteries come to mind. Battlefields are another. A thin place can be anywhere that has been the location of unexpected deaths caused by war or nature. Last month, NPR radio ran a story about a phone booth in Japan that has become a thin place. Yes, a phone booth.

The great tsunami of 2011 washed over 10,000 people out to sea. The bodies of many of those poor victims were never found. 

A 70-year-old gardener lost three family members to the tsunami. His manner of grieving was to acquire an old phone booth and move it to his garden in sight of the coast. He put a black rotary dial phone set and a vase of flowers on the shelf in the booth. He began making regular visits to his new phone booth, to pick up the receiver and speak to his lost loved ones.

Sounds crazy, huh? Maybe not so much. Word spread about the phone booth by the sea, and people began to visit to “call” their own loved ones who’d been taken by the tsunami. The little glass and metal box became a sought-out, thin place.

A public radio station asked permission to tape some of the “conversations.”  No one objected, and they discovered middle-aged men, who are normally highly restrained and not prone to showing emotion, crying as they told their lost ones that things are going well enough, but it’s hard without them. They updated the dead on the little things the living were doing, and confessed to their loved ones how much they are still missed. All that said while holding an old plastic phone to their ear, standing in a metal and glass box in a garden, looking at the ocean that had swept their loved ones away.

I wrote last month that my 91-year-old mother, Betty Lou, just passed away, a cancer victim. She was a grand lady, blessed with a long life. Mama’s passing was not unexpected or violent.  She left us in a bed in a hospice hospital sometime in the wee hours of the morning. The kicker to me is that she died after I’d fallen asleep on the folding cot, just a few feet from her. The nurse had to wake me with the news.  It happened sooner than we all thought, but…it was my watch, and I was sleeping.

If I were standing in that phone booth on the coast of Japan, I’d pick up the receiver, punch in the number 3-1779, our home phone number when I was kid, and talk to Mama one more time. I’d tell her we gave her a fine send-off at the church. I’d assure that her oldest son John spoke well at the service, and her daughter-in-law Nita sang Precious Lord, Take Me Home as she’d requested. I’d lovingly say that Nita sang with as much beauty, soul, and grace as any hymn was ever sung, which is true. I’d talk to her about the family gathering afterwards at her daughter’s Betsy’s house, where more stories were told, and that we raised glasses of wine to her. Betsy’s good wine, not the cheap stuff I buy.

Then, standing there in that phone booth, I’d grip that phone handle tighter, and I’d tell her that I still remember the day when I was twelve and she listened in on her bedroom phone extension to a phone call I got from the father of another kid. Men don’t call kids on the phone, and no doubt Mama was curious.

That morning, I’d had words and maybe a little shoving back and forth with this guy’s son during a summer day-camp where he and I were junior counselors. No doubt we both had been mouthy jerks, not good role models for the younger guys. Our sniping at each other continued on the bus ride home, and I ended up pulling off his new fancy hat he’d recently gotten at Six Flags Over Texas. Six Flags had just opened and the hat was showy evidence that he’d been there. It was one of those brightly-colored snap-brim jobs with his name stitched on the front and a fluffy feather stapled to the side. I still remember that hat. Anyway, I dropped it out the bus window somewhere on the other side of town from where we lived.

So, later that afternoon, his father called and lit into me about the hat. I remember I was scared and the man was being pretty abrasive and made the comment that he was a special deputy sheriff and could…at which point Mama calmly said, “Get off the phone, Phil.”

I hung up, and crept to her bedroom doorway to eavesdrop while my mother did her own Mama Grizzly impression to this guy who’d taken a step too far towards her cub. When she finished reaming out the man for threatening me, she hung up and said, “Philip, I know you’re listening. You WILL use your lawn mowing money to buy that a boy a new hat.”  That was all she said to me, but she was probably was muttering under her breath, “Don’t be such a dumb-ass, Son. There’ll come a time when I won’t be around.”

I dug into my stash of crumpled lawn-mowing dollar bills, and the next day paid the kid for his damned hat.

Moving past that story, before I hung up on my phone call to Mama, I’d tell her I’m kicking myself that I wasn’t holding her hand at the end. Yeah, I was in the room, but most likely, I was snoring during her last breaths. I wasn’t right there next to her. I’d ask her to overlook that, if she could, and I know she would. Then, I’d probably awkwardly joke that I always did have trouble staying awake after ten at night, just like her.

Sorry to jerk on your heartstrings this way. I’m too old to carry on so about my mom’s passing. But, fair or not, you, gentle readers, just became my phone booth by the sea. Thanks.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Pumpkins, Swings, and Old Spirits

Halloween is a big deal in our little town. Lots of yards get decorated for the occasion, weeks before the big night. Since our granddaughters came to town this weekend, their dad and I took on a Saturday morning yard project, while the girls and Granny Nita sat in the driveway painting pumpkins. We used a stepladder, fishing line, and an old cane pole to hang 25 plastic pumpkin heads from our trees. 

I also devoted some time to swinging the girls in the backyard. This granddaddy stuff can be OK. But, as ever, I’m still learning that little girls have a wholly different world view than did our two young sons. Different things interest them. Except for tree swings. They all love to swing. Duh.

Last evening, I spent four hours in our city cemetery standing by the tombstone of a fellow by the name of  Constantine Connolly who died in 1897.  I was again a spirit in the annual Caldwell County Historical Commission’s fund raiser: Speaking of the Dead: A Ramble Through the Graveyard. Twelve successive groups of living folks were guided through the cemetery to hear the life stories--condensed to ten minutes--of eight real people whose earthly remains are buried  there. So I told old Constantine’s tale a dozen times, and will tell it a dozen more times this evening.

I spoke of Connolly’s coming alone to Texas from Alabama in 1852 and making his way to the booming new town of Lockhart, and his marrying a gal named Malissa, the little sister of a good friend. The highlight was the tale of Constantine’s three months as a sergeant in a troop of 110 Texas Rangers who chased a band of Apache Indians from Central Texas into Mexico. Once over the Rio Grande River, the Rangers fought both the Apaches they’d been pursuing, and a company of Mexican cavalry who’d allied with the Apaches to force the Texans back across the river where they belonged.

It was an exciting and gritty true story, about the early Texas Rangers, who were really a called-up militia on temporary service. The tale reinforced the fearsome “Shoot first, Shoot often” reputation the mounted Texans had gained during the Mexican War, which had ended only five years before.

I spent my birthday on a reenacting trip to Perryville, Kentucky. There I am in the photo, performing my very important duties as a camp cook, after a long day of doing soldier drill in the morning and taking part in a parade of 2,000 reenactors. That afternoon we fought a sham battle, our battalion charging  uphill, through a field of head-high dried corn stalks, just like the real old Rebs did on the same hillside on the same day, 154 years ago. I still like doing that stuff.

For the past two months, travel and family matters have piled up and kept my fingers off the keyboard. Now, I’m back in Recliner #7, tap, tap, tapping away, writing the final chapters of Defiant Honor. I hope readers will find a few surprises that will bring smiles and tears. I’m shooting to finish and publish in mid-November, if I can stay away from the pumpkin trees, backyard swings, and reenacting trips. We’ll see.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Betty Lou

I’ve not written in a month. We just returned from a wonderful vacation trip to Alaska and I promised Nita that I’d leave my laptop at home and just be a tourist. It was a good idea, even if I immediately became a bit “twitchy.” Happily, as the days of sightseeing and animal-watching flowed along, I got better. Maybe it was the micro-breweries we kept discovering. 

Nonetheless, as soon as we walked over our threshold two nights ago, I made a bee-line for Recliner #7 and the laptop. I can’t say the keyboard sang under the touch of my fingers, but it was a nice moment.

Today is another story, though. I’m sitting in a hospice hospital room with my 91-year-old mom, who is a cancer victim. Her life story, not a short story, but a cheerful novel of family, tight budgets, music, books and travel is well into its final chapter, and likely close to the last paragraph. I’ve found that endings to wonderful books often bring on tears and leave me a bit melancholy. I’m grateful for having experienced the author’s story, sad it’s over, but I understand that every tale well-told and life well-lived has to reach an end.

We’re not immortal, wouldn’t want to be.  I love my mother dearly, and I’m grateful for her long life, and blessed to be able to share her last days or weeks. But like I just wrote, endings are sad, regardless of faith and a loving family.

All Mama’s grandkids are coming in this weekend. The doc says there should be some hours of clarity where she can squeeze young hands and pat cheeks and they can give her hugs.  

I expect I’ll write more about Mama later, but suffice to say now that she was a sixteen-year-old bride of World War II. She rode a bus from Houston to Knoxville, Kentucky to marry my soldier dad before he shipped out for England in 1942. Mama won’t tell this story, but Pop has sworn that their second night together after the wedding ceremony in the chaplain’s living room was spent under blankets in the chaplain’s yard, since not a room was to be had.

Here’s a photo of Mama and her great-grandson Jackson last October at our local library’s Authors Night Event where I was one of the featured writers. That was a highlight for me to share with Mama since she’s the one who hooked me on books and reading at a very tender age.  And Jackson’s big sloppy smile had to warm Mama’s heart.

I intend to dive back into the 1800’s any day now and wrap up the Defiant Honor story of John McBee and Faith and Levi and the others. But for right now, Betty Lou--Mama--has my attention and I need to hold her hand and stroke her cheek, for my sake, as well as hers.

By the way, hospice hospitals are absolutely wonderful. 

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Green Shorts

Since the Olympics are winding down and in a rare feat, an American lady won a medal in weight lifting, and since school is about to start, here’s one high school memory that I don’t mind sharing.There’s no Civil War link this week.

Green shorts at Longview High School were a questionable status symbol because athletes didn’t earn them. Athletes earned letter jackets.

Green shorts were earned in physical education class and were the prize I most yearned for in the spring of 1967.  Green shorts were awarded to those who earned an A+ on the six-weeks test in PE class. Everyone else wore white shorts.

The test was the same each six weeks:  In one class period complete 80 sit-ups in two minutes, 60 squat-thrusts in one minute. Do 40 push-ups, and 20 chin-ups.  No modifications, no grading curve. Six weeks to prepare for one hour of testing.

Coach told us about green shorts on the first day of school and I imagined my chances of going to the moon were just as good as my earning them. Sure enough, for a year my efforts landed shy of “green short” status, although I was morphing from a soft dumpling boy into a semi-dumpling.

During my senior year, I signed up for PE again, just to earn those damned shorts. For five grading periods, five tests, I kept my grade at an A, but couldn’t quite reach the trophy standard for sit-ups and chin-ups.

Finally, I had one last six-week test to reach the green short standard. If I was going to join the elite, and wear shorts of honor in class, they had to be earned during the next test.

With determination, I managed to top out on all the tests but the chin-ups, and they were last. I had never done 20 of them without dropping off the bar.  On that test day I did 18.

I had done the math many times, so I knew I had earned a 97.5 and had missed the mark again. I was in the locker room pulling off my gym clothes when Coach called me.  I went, dejected, until he handed me a pair of green shorts. “Glad you made it, Mac.”

I smiled as I clutched the green prize, yet I know my eyes still said, “Nah, Coach, I missed it by one chin-up.” 

I wish this story had ended there, but sure enough, a few minutes later, Coach came over to my locker, and contritely said, “Sorry, Phil, I was wrong. You needed one more chin-up,” as he held out his hand for the green shorts.

I wore white gym shorts in PE the rest of the year. The sky didn’t fall, and no one called the principal to complain that the teacher’s mistake shouldn’t have been corrected at my expense. No one suggested I be given another test.  No one suggested that Coach fudge the grade to protect my self-esteem.

I’ve never forgotten that I missed the mark on my last shot at the green shorts, but I also know I was treated fairly, and I know that I had not done all I could to prepare for the last test. I hadn’t coasted, but I hadn’t done extra chins every day either.

Over the years, as a career educator, I’ve had occasion to talk to many teachers about what qualities are shared by the best teachers. I never hesitated to identify my PE teacher as the best I had.  My choice often irritated “academic” folks, until I told them the story of the green shorts. While that personal tale of my near-miss would simply garner sympathy from some, others “got it.”
They got that Coach had done a lot of things right. Coach had laid out his learning expectations on the first day of class. Coach had clearly and concisely told us how we were going to be tested and graded on the curriculum.  Coach spent a substantial portion of every class period preparing us for the test. Coach enriched the curriculum with games and sports, but always focused on his primary goal of developing our personal fitness.

Coach didn’t inflate grades or give easy “extra credit” assignments. Finally, perhaps most importantly, Coach was honest with me, admitted his math error, and didn’t let me walk away with a coveted prize “almost” earned

In August of 1997, thirty years after I missed the green shorts, my neighbor convinced me to go to the new gym in town and try weight lifting with him, I’m still going. Yes, there is a chinning bar in Mike’s gym. It doesn’t haunt me or tempt me. Too much.