Meeting Robert E. Lee

When I was in 1st grade, I got up at 4:30 every morning. I put on my barn clothes, and after a quick bowl of Cream of Wheat, went off to milk cows with my parents. My teacher was also my neighbor, so when I put my head on my desk in the afternoon for a little nap, she let me rest. It didn’t harm my education. In fact, I often revived the technique during my college years to get through boring lectures.

I sometimes slept through the bits of free time we were given, but when I didn’t, I discovered two things that shaped my life.

The first was a puzzle of the United States. I practiced that puzzle until I could put it together without having to consider the pieces. The entire world became a puzzle to me; I studied maps until I could put the different colored pieces together in my mind. Unfortunately, this never helped me in a Spelling Bee, where I always found myself sitting down after the first round. Geography Bees weren’t a thing yet.

The second was a book: Meet Robert E. Lee, hardly the reading material you’d find in a 1st grade classroom these days.

I expect 1st grade book collections have changed since 1973.

It’s hard to pinpoint when love affairs begin, but the fact I remember this hints that it had something to do with kindling my interest in history. I wanted to know more about long-gone people and the lives they led. More than that, I wanted to read.

I checked out of the library a book called Rogers’ Rangers and the French & Indian War. It was a middle school book, and despite my not comprehending it very well, I read the whole thing. It inspired me to play French and Indian War games in my Cap’n Crunch – the yellow pieces were the French and the Crunch Berries were British. The milk was a reminder that I had to get up at 4:30 next morning.

I doubt this cover will be featured on the front of next month’s Scholastic catalog.

Why do I mention these things? Partly, it’s because I don’t have anything more interesting to mention this week. It’s also because all our boys will be in elementary or preschool next year. I’m hoping each of them will find something in school that makes his little synapses crackle and fires him with a hunger for knowledge.

It would be nice if whatever excites them inspires them to read, but maybe they’ll learn in different ways. The boys like maps and Big Brother has revered Mr. Lincoln since he was three, but it doesn’t have to be Geography or History that sparks them, though it would be nice to raise children with an appreciation for what came before them.

Speaking of what came before, I’m grateful General Lee lived a fascinating life that drew me into the past. I’m happy his team lost, but I don’t think he would harm today’s children any more than he harmed me. Rogers’ Rangers on the other hand, those guys were rough, firing off all their long words at a 6th grade reading level. They almost took me down.

 

 

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Basketball preempted by Japanese animation and one fast German lady

A few Christmases ago, my wife got me a wide-screen TV on which to watch sports. On a Sunday in early March, this should have been perfect for college basketball, except Big Brother was hogging my TV to binge watch Pokémon cartoons.

I’ll admit, there are many cartoons I enjoy, even at my advanced age, but Pokémon is not among them. I like some humor in cartoons, even if it’s just a little bit around the fringes. Pokémon contains almost as much humor as a Volkswagen repair manual.

There is one thing Pokémon does well. Unfortunately, that one thing is to encourage kids to spend their money on those annoying trading cards. In the ‘70s, Major League Baseball got me to throw my allowance at Topps trading cards, so I guess watching a new generation of waste is payback.

You wanna card battle, 21st century children? 1977 Willie Stargell would crush this young puppy.

Tiring of the Pokémon marathon, I got my iPad to see if I could find a basketball game to live stream. Browsing the sports listings, I noticed one of the channels I didn’t realize existed was broadcasting a biathlon race. I forgot about basketball and tapped to watch this.

I’ve previously made references to my secret childhood dreams of becoming an Olympic Nordic (cross-country) skier. In case you’re wondering, those dreams did not come to fruition. I was close though. The only thing I lacked was years of sacrifice and training. And perhaps athletic ability.

Nordic skiing is a great sport on its own, but then some nameless hero came along and made it into the absolutely awesome sport of biathlon by putting rifles into the skiers’ hands. Who wouldn’t want to ski and shoot? The only way it could possibly be better is if there were also a knife-throwing component.

Buster climbed onto my lap and watched the race with me. He is not as keen on skiing as I am, but he does like to see a good firearm in action.

The race was almost over. We watched all the Europeans sweat it out for the tops spots, with the traditional 8th place Canadian cracking the top 10 on behalf of North America, and only wild rumors of a United States representative far back among the workers packing up the beginning of the course.

At the end, the German racer broke away. “The German’s gonna win!” I exclaimed.

Buster pointed at the screen. “That guy’s German?”

“That lady’s German,” I corrected as she slid across the finish. “All the people in this race are ladies.”

The other racers came to the line. It was a tight finish for second among four racers.

“Wasn’t that great? Wouldn’t you love to win a race like that?” I asked Buster.

“No!” he said with disdain. “I don’t wanna be a German lady.”

I wonder how many other American boys have rejected the sport for the very same reason.

The B Team. A real German lady never takes her skis off to shoot.

 

We got game – family style

Big Brother just finished his second season of playing organized basketball. He seems to have found a sport he loves. He’s pretty good at it, much better than at soccer. This is not surprising since he seems to have good hand-eye coordination but is not a natural athlete. Soccer limited the use of his best asset; at least he was allowed to use his eyes.

We have a hoop in our driveway and he often wants me to play with him. Sometimes I do, but sometimes, like in February, it’s too cold for old folks to be shooting hoops outside. And sometimes there’s a good basketball game on TV, where we old men play most of our sports. These days, my best athletic moves involve transforming from the upright to the reclining position.

Meanwhile, the boy has received, as gifts, at least three small, indoor hoops that hook onto the top of doors. Mommy shudders every time he gets one, because he always wants to hang them from the door of his bedroom. This ignites the age-old conflict between moms and playing ball in the house. For my part, I see Mommy’s point, but I also remember how fun playing ball in the house could be, so I have mixed emotions.

As a compromise, Big Brother was allowed to hang a hoop over a door at the bottom of the basement steps. When he has a friend over, they can often be found playing basketball in the basement. This is doubly good, because not only does it keep the big kids from in front of any game I might be watching on TV, it encourages the little boys to go downstairs and play in the toy room there.

I’ve grown accustomed to hearing talk of slam dunks from the bottom of the stairs, but last weekend I heard something new. After the friends had gone, there was still the noise of kids playing basketball in the basement. Big Brother was sharing the sport he loves with his little brothers. “Is this a three pointer?” I heard Buster ask. Big Brother explained the rules; he was actually teaching them.

I love this on lots of levels: first, I love that no one was fighting – that’s always a plus in our Itchy & Scratchy household. I love that the little boys are developing an interest in basketball. I love that admiration for their big brother is the cause of this. I love that Big Brother wants to share one of his favorite things with them.

I called the boys to come upstairs for dessert. Big Brother and Buster came up, but Big Man kept practicing. He needs to stand on the second stair to get the ball near the hoop. I asked him what he wanted for dessert. “Nothing,” he replied, “I’m paying bassetbaw.”

There he stayed, practicing his second-stair shot. I’ll remember this day when he’s swishing three-pointers. I hope Big Brother does too, so we can be proud together.

 

"Paying bassetbaw."

“Paying bassetbaw.”

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With a two-step handicap.

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Is better than cookies.

 

 

I get by with a little help from my sons

My boys are good helpers. Over the years, they’ve helped me do all sorts of useful things. They’ve helped me pull flowers from the garden so the weeds would have a chance to grow. They’ve helped me shovel snow onto the driveway and sidewalks so everything would look uniformly nice and white, without any ugly gray splotches of bare concrete.

Lately, they’ve begun to help me make breakfast. In this they make themselves especially useful by allowing me to practice my early morning peacekeeping skills when the inevitable fight over who gets to crack the pancake egg breaks out.

I don’t know how I would manage my daily toils without these three most handy boys.

Up until now they have swung into action upon seeing me prepare to undertake some task they know stands beyond my power to complete unaided. “Daddy’s getting out the garden hose? He doesn’t know how to drench himself from head to toe. We’ll show him how to do it.”

This week, Big Man took his helpfulness to higher level. He began helping me with the yard work when I’m not even home. One afternoon, while I was at work, he got a rake and started to be helpful on his own. Daddy spent lots of time raking stuff before the snow; now that the snow is gone, it’s time to rake stuff some more.

Since the lawn did not have much rake-able material on it, it certainly would be good to put some there.

My wife sent me this picture, with the caption, “I’m helping Daddy,” which I don’t doubt is exactly what he told her.

"I'm helping Daddy - whether he likes it or not."

“I’m helping Daddy – whether he likes it or not.”

By the time I got home, he’d gotten Buster involved in the helping.  Together, they’d done a wonderful job of amassing piles of twigs, leaves, and other sundry bits of nature unhealthy to the mower. These piles they raked from under shrubbery and pine trees into the middle of the lawn. Out of the shadows and into the light, I could now fully appreciate this marvelous collection of nature’s discarded bounty. No doubt, I will appreciate them even more at the first lawn mowing of spring.

It was a fantastic surprise to come home to. They were proud of themselves, and in spite of the imminent lawn mower repairs, I am proud of them too. They are becoming responsible young men, in their own roundabout ways.

I didn’t have the heart to tidy the lawn afterward. I’m kind of hoping a big wind will come up and blow all that stuff back under the trees before real spring hits and I have to begin actively maintaining the yard.

Then again, March can be relied upon for one good snow storm. Maybe they’ll throw all that stuff into the driveway when they are shoveling the lawn.