Thursday, June 30, 2011

Walking with the legends made my feet hurt

We normally think of professional athletes as being unflappable.

They always appear to be so calm, cool, and collected as they do what they do on the playing field or on TV. We can't feel their sweaty palms or their racing hearts. And the TV cameras never show them throwing up, so we don't imagine that they might actually be uncomfortable out there. Or nervous. Or downright scared to death.

And maybe they aren't when they're in their comfort zone, where they know what they're doing because they've been doing it all of their lives.

But put them on a stage, under a whole bunch of hot TV lights, in front of 600 strangers, their mom, their dad, their wife and children and their high school coach, then give them three minutes to deliver a speech and they turn to jelly. Just like the rest of us.

Mortal.

I got to witness this transformation up close Saturday night at the annual Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Induction ceremony. In fact,  I got a front row seat. And it was one of the highlights of my life.

I've been attending this event for more than 25 years, sitting in the audience with my friends and peers, the sports writers of the state of Louisiana. Together we huddle in the dark, drink southern sweet tea, eat our dessert first and get the frissons when the former and current inductees make their way across the stage in the "Walk of Legends."

Then we sit through endless speech after endless speech. We laugh at the good jokes, groan at the bad ones and offer our completely unsolicited critiques of the gratitudes given by the men and women we have elected for enshrinement. One colleague even keeps track of how much time they take.

But this year (and next) I am the president of the Louisiana Sports Writers Association. The Chief Chick. And among the perks are, I'll get to buy a fancy new dress, a new pair of shoes. and sit up on a stage handing out little crystal carvings of the state of Louisiana to some of the greatest athletes who have ever played in the state.

This year it was former New Orleans Saints players Buford Jordan, Vaughan Johnson and Morten Andersen, former major league baseball player Todd Walker; prolific softball pitcher Kyla Hall Holas (now a college coach); former NBA player Slick Watts , Louisiana high school coaching legend Don Shows, and the grandson of the late T.P. "Skipper" Heard, the LSU athletic director who decided the Tigers should play football on Saturdays under the lights.

But it also meant that I was separated from my friends and my family for the evening. While they ate their filet mignon and strawberry cheesecake and made repeated trips to the bar for free beer and $2 soft drinks (WTH?), I was perched on the edge of a rented wing back chair under 10,000 watts of hot TV lights in a long-sleeved dress and too tight shoes, worrying about whether or not I was flashing too much cleavage.


Me, at my spot on the stage


I had gotten to eat only half of my dessert before I was called to the stage to deliver my own little speech  in which I thanked a long list of state politicians for their help and support in getting our actual Hall of Fame halls built. The two-story, 27,500 square foot building on historic Front Street in downtown Natchitoches, Louisiana, is scheduled for completion next fall (after my reign is over, natch).

I returned to my seat at the the table with my oh-so-supportive husband and stepdaughter and forced-to-be-there 10-year-old daughter, to wolf down the rest of my dinner. After a quick trip to the potty, I returned to the stage where it was my privilege to greet the inductees and award winners one by one.

 And I've got to tell you, for all their fame, all their fortune and all their years in the spotlight, all those big, tough athletes became mere mortals at that moment.

Maybe it was the vision of me in my striking blue dress and too-tight shoes. Or the 10,000 watt lights, or the 600 spectators, or the cheesecake.  But all these big, tough, macho athletes turned to mush in my presence. They sweat. They fidgeted. They forgot all about the X they were told to stand on to take a photo with me and their little crystal boot states. Then nearly every one of them almost dropped the darned thing. After just the first one I started to hold on to it an extra second just to be sure. But most of them handed it right back to me.

"Hold it for me," they pleaded as they made their way to the podium to give their 3-minute speech.

Yeah, their speech. The one they’ve written, rewritten and maybe practiced in the bathroom mirror a dozen times. Or not. Most of them went overtime.

Oh, not Kyla, who came up to the stage calm and cool with her speech all written out on her iPad.

But then Todd forgot his notes on the table next to me. Buford dropped the stopwatch he brought with him to make sure he didn’t go over his allotted three minutes. And Vaughan forgot to thank his wife. (He returned to the stage later to give her a really big shout out).

And only one -- my dear friend Larry Hymel, who was receiving the Distinguished Service Award for his years as a Sports Information Director at a local college -- gave me one. A shout out, that is. His school's mascot is, appropriately enough, the Lions. And he remarked that he was pleased as punch to get a boot for the Lions from the Lyons. (Get it?)

But for the rest of the audience, the highlight of the night was the introduction of former Saints kicker Morten Andersen by former Saints quarterback Bobby Hebert. The boy from Cut Off, Louisiana, handed off to the boy from Copenhagen, Denmark, and brought down the house doing it.

In his 15-minute “introduction” Hebert ranted about the NFL lockout, the greed of the owners, the virtues of Vaughan Johnson and every other subject, before finally getting around to talking about his friend, Morten Andersen --  including a creative description of what happened to Morten's lower digestive system when he lined up for those kicks.

At his front row table with his wife and sons -- one of which was celebrating his seventh birthday --  Morten merely laughed along with all of us at Hebert's jokes and  one-liners, waiting patiently for his buddy to finally get around to him. And he finally did.

Bigger than life, Morten Andersen, the final inductee of the evening, made his way to the stage. Morten Anderson, whom nearly every woman in New Orleans crushed on back in the 1980s (yes, including me and I even told him so). Morten Andersen, who gave us all heart palpitations when he kicked those game-winning field goals, then broke our hearts when he went to play for the Dirty Birds of Atlanta.

"Thank you, Bobby, for your concise Cliff's Notes of Vaughan Johnson's career, thank you for your comments on the lockout situation, the viewership of the NFL game and anything else but me. Thank you very much," Morten said. "When I asked him to do this, I knew it was going to be bad."

He went on to ask the audience of 600 people if they wouldn't mind singing "Happy Birthday" to his little boy before delivering his own heart-felt speech about achieving the American dream.

"Only in America," The Great Dane said, more than once.

Only in America can a boy from Denmark become an American football hero after a 25-year career.

And only in America can a girl from Houma, Louisiana, move to New Orleans, become a sports writer for a major metropolitan daily, join a 50-year-old organization of crusty old sports writers (nearly every one of them male), be accepted by them, ascend to their presidency, be moved from the sports beat to the crime beat a month later and then, one year later, sit on a stage (for three hours) and hand out little crystal boots to a bunch of sports legends. And take pictures.


Vaughan Johnson and The Prez,
Buford Jordan and The Prez
The Prez with Bobby Hebert

The Great Dane, Morten Anderson, with The Prez
And when it was over, their hands were dry, their pulses were back to normal, the minions bowed at their feet and the crystal boot states were handed off to their wives (or husband) for safekeeping.

And I couldn't wait to take off my shoes.

**Here's a little video highlight reel. Yes, I'm in it... 



Thursday, June 23, 2011

Trippin'

All my bags are packed,
I'm ready to go.
But before I leave,
I'm sure I'll pack some mo'.



For the record, I am not a high-maintenance woman.

I can get showered, blow-dried, made up and styled in under an hour.  I rarely, if ever, leave my husband waiting at the door when we have somewhere to go.

In fact, I'm usually the one with my hand hanging on the door knob, waiting for him. First to arrive from whatever game he's playing. And then, well, let's just say his mother trained him well to go before he goes -- even if he just went.

The hardest part for me usually is figuring out what to wear.  I have been known to change outfits a dozen times before walking out of my you-would-be-jealous-if-you-saw-it walk-in closet. I do much better in June, July and August, however, because that you-would-be-jealous-if-you-saw-it-walk-in closet is not air-conditioned and could very well double as a walk-in-closet/sauna at times. Sometimes I must hurry, else I have to shower all over again.


But give me a ticket for an airplane or a fast train or a little weekend car trip and make me choose some things to take out of the you-would-be-jealous-if-you-saw-it- walk-in closet to a tiny hotel room far away and I lose it.

I become one of those women. 


The inner me.


I overpack.

Tomorrow morning I leave for a four-day trip to Natchitoches, Louisiana, for the annual Louisiana Sports Writers Convention and Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Induction ceremony. I am the president of the association and I will be up on a giant stage Saturday night handing out plaques and awards to a very distinguished group of legendary Louisiana sports figures. I have purchased a very nice new dress for the occasion.

But there are other events and other days.

So, tomorrow morning I will leave with (as of this moment) four bags, a garment bag (for the new dress) and a tackle, er, make-up box. I am bringing  six dresses, four pairs of shoes, four bras and seven pairs of underwear. For a four-day trip.

(My husband, incidentally, is driving up another day. In another car. He'll throw some underwear and socks in a bat bag and be done with it. The bastard.)

Yes, I know you are asking why. So am I.

Is it because I have trouble making decisions? Do I have commitment issues? Am I just a little OCD? Or am I just a woman?

Yes. To all of the above.

I can't stand the idea that I might get there, wherever I am, and need/want/have-to-have something I left behind. Even though I know perfectly well that there are Walmarts in virtually every town in this country. Even though I know I have six dresses packed. What if I want the other one?

I say, pack them all.

Just as I said last November, "Let's just drive to Disney World so I can pack whatever I want."  And we did.

Crazy. I know.

But I can't help it. I'm a Girl Scout mom. Always be prepared, I say.

But I'm also the silly woman who decided to leave the packing for her honeymoon until after the wedding. After the, oh, half a dozen glasses of wine and champagne. On an empty stomach.

So, hours after I said "I Do," I went off to my romantic honeymoon in Point Clear, Alabama, with nine pairs of socks and not much else. In December.

New husband must have been happy, you say with a wink and a nudge? Yeah, until he had to take me shopping for a whole new wardrobe. With a hangover.

Better to be prepared, I say.


This post has been submitted to Lovelinks #12.
I never win, but it's fun to play!
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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day


I have no faded photographs of my father holding me as a baby with that look of wonder in his eyes.

I have no memories of those Sunday mornings playing Froggy-In-The-Middle in my parents' bed.

But I do remember him coming and going. A lot.

And missing him. A lot.

My parents divorced when I was 2. I don't remember that either. And that's probably good. I wonder what went through my little 2-year-old brain when, one day, daddy was there and the next he was gone. Did I even notice?

I know I noticed it a lot as I grew older.

I was the kid with divorced parents. In the mid-1960s, before it became the norm. None of my other friends had divorced parents. And there were none on TV either. I was the oddball.

Rather than just that guy that was there all the time, telling me yes or no or "Go ask mom," my dad was the guy who made appearances out of the blue and then broke my heart when he left. With that he probably set a pattern for my later dating life. But he also became Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny all rolled into one devastatingly handsome man, who arrived out of the blue, always bearing gifts.

And I absolutely adored him. Or, the idea of him.

He was the gorgeously handsome man - a little bit Elvis, a little bit young William Shatner, a little bit Frank Sinatra, a little bit Tom Jones (to me, at least) -- voted Most Handsome in his high school years.


He was the man who traveled the world, sending postcards and beautifully written letters from far off exotic places. And a picture of him holding a real, live koala bear in Austrailia.

He was the man who just happened to be in Mexico where they were filming the movie, "Five Card Stud," and got in as an extra. Later he sent me autographs from some of the stars.

He was the man who came to visit me once or twice a year, bringing me the beautiful china dolls from all over the world and sometimes blankets and maracas from Mexico.

He was the man who called me one day to tell me I would have a stepmother, and later two baby sisters.

He was the man who returned from the Arab nations with his very own dish-dash. He later used it to fool the mayor of our hometown (who happens to be a cousin) into believing that he was a very wealthy businessman looking to pump millions into the local economy.

He was the man who had many, many, many girlfriends the world over.

He was the man who withered in his later years, struggling to breathe from years of cigarettes as his heart got weaker and weaker. He died at the age of 56 in 1989.

He's the man I so wish could have met the man I married, mainly because I think they are so alike. They sure love(d) to have a good time.

He's the man I wish could have met my baby girl and my two stepchildren.

I wonder if he and my brother, who died in 2001, are together now in whatever after life there is. I hope they are watching over all of us and the grandchildren they now have. I hope he is watching over me.

And he's the man whom, I know, would have been here every weekend, fixing all the piddly little things that can go wrong in an 80-year old house. And he's the man who would have built me a first-rate pool deck and cabana if he only he were here.

I know he wasn't a perfect man. Certainly not the perfect husband or father. But he was mine. The only one I had. And, like a lot of little girls who grow up to be women, he was my first love.

And I wish he were here.








Friday, June 17, 2011

Ghost stories

The game long had been dissected. 

The pizza long had grown cold. 

Whatever buzz The Coaches might have gotten from the now-empty Bud Lights had long since worn off.

Hours had passed since the baseball victory of the day. Plays replayed. Players praised and criticized. And nearly an entire bag of Skittles consumed for dessert.

Just another night at our house, spent around the dining room table. Post game.

Over the hours the stories had gone from baseball to football to teachers to principals to newspapers and back.

But as the time approached the Witching Hour the stories turned to the scary. We began to use the voices our parents and big brothers used to use to try to scare the bejeezus out of us. And the hair stood up on the back of our necks.

But we weren't telling ghost stories.  We were telling true stories.

The stories about the houses that disappeared. The stories about the people with axes in their attics. About the people that got out and the ones that didn't. 

 The stories about those of us who spent endless hours in our cars with our families and our dogs and every treasured possession we could fit, driving somewhere. Anywhere. North. Away. Trying to find a safe place to land.

The stories about being there. Staying there. Out of harm's way. Making the best of the situation, taking turns shopping and cooking. Wondering when we would be able to go home. 

Wondering if we still had a home to go back to. If it still had a roof. If it now had a lake or a river inside it. 

Wondering if our friends and families were safe. Or still alive.

Because for a while we did not know.

With Hurricane Katrina barreling though the Gulf of Mexico, my in-laws, Jane and Pappy Luquet, left their little house within sight of the beach with a change of clothes and enough medication for a few days. Jane did remember to take her jewelry.

They went just up the road a ways to Kiln -- The birthplace of Brett Favre -- to stay with friends and relatives.

For the next week after Katrina wiped their town off the map, I hogged my stepdaughter's computer, scouring the Internet message boards and the Red Cross web sites trying to find their names on a list of survivors. Or not.

My husband and his best friend recounted the story of their first trip to Mississippi after learning that they were alive, on a mission to rescue them and get them whatever medical attention they might need.

Six days later they found them, drinking beer next to the now-green pool, completely oblivious to the fact that they no longer had a house and that we were worried to death.

My in-laws' street after Katrina. That's their pine tree in the middle of the frame.


No. These aren't ghost stories. These are hurricane stories, the stories of Katrina and Camille and Betsy and Ivan and Gustav and Andrew and Audrey and the big one that destroyed Last Island.
 
And they still give me the shivers.

This post has been submitted to Lovelinks #11. 
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Friday, June 10, 2011

Seasons change

The life of a Baseball Widow...

Winter


Spring
Still spring.

Yep. Still spring.            






































Really?

Summer!

Game over.




Monday, June 6, 2011

Sister, sister



They both have eyes so brown they're almost black, and hair so thick you could use it to sew a hem.

They both hate tomatoes and mustard, but they both love beef jerky, candy, onion dip and chips.

They both are hooked on their electronic gadgets, adept at programming cell phones and updating their Facebooks.

But one is quiet and one definitely is not.

One likes scary movies the other just isn't ready for, opting instead for reruns of Spongebob Squarepants.

One loves a real boy, the other dreams about Justin Bieber.

While one can stay up until dawn and sleep til noon, the other starts to yawn at 9 o'clock.

And while one lives with the woman who gave birth to them both, the other lives with me.

They are sisters, separated by their fathers, five years, about 60 miles and adoption. Their lives are very, very different.  But they are bonded by blood. And us.

At the hospital after our daughter was born and put into our arms, I took a knee to talk to a confused little 5-year-old girl who didn't quite understand why she had a baby sister who wasn't going to live with her and her mom.

"No matter what," I told her. "This is always going to be your sister."

And I have honored that promise to her and to my baby girl. I wanted my daughter to have a blood sister, and to know her. And they do, thanks to frequent visits over the last 10 years.

Ashlee, the older sister, has been to our house several times for summer vacations and holidays. She knows our friends, our relatives, our dogs and our crazy always-on-the-go life filled with baseball games and the backyard pool.

And we make regular visits to their house on the bayou, a little cottage that has been raised 9 feet up in the air so it isn't regularly flooded by high tides and hurricanes and is always filled with cousins.

A few years ago the older Ashlee showed little sister Lora Leigh how to put a blue crab to sleep.

On Saturday Lora Leigh showed Ashlee around on her first trip to Barnes and Noble, the "biggest bookstore she had ever seen." 

 A few days before, I took them both to the French Quarter to play tourist. They both gawked at the tall buildings and the little shops filled with crazy tourist trinkets. And they both were brave enough to eat a bug at the New Orleans Insectarium, getting stamps as a reward.


Yes. They are sisters, bonded by their blood.

And every visit goes the same.

They are thrilled at the prospect of being together again, then overjoyed to be reunited. They spend the first few days joined at the hip, playing games, doing crafts, watching TV, swimming in the pool.

Then one wants to swim but the other doesn't. One wants to stay up while the other wants to sleep. One wants to watch Disney and the other yearns for MTV.

"Y'all are sisters," I told them more than once during an argument over what to do together. "Not conjoined twins. You don't have to do everything together."

After a few days they are starting to get on each other's nerves, craving some personal space.  Ashlee wants to get back home to her boyfriend and Lora wants to play on the computer. Alone.

Finally by the end of the week they are acting like the sisters they are, snarking and starting to fight.  And it's time for them to separate again.

But there's always Facebook and cell phones to keep them connected. And they know they will be reunited again.  And that is how it will always be.

Submitted to  Lovelinks #10