My Field of Dreams (Memories for National Senior Day)

I want to republish a post from several years ago in honor of National Senior Day on August 21st. These are some special memories from my early high school sport years about one of my great loves: Basketball. It’s some of those life lessons learned early that allowed me to have the incredible ‘yellow brick road’ I’ve been able to follow. Enjoy the history, the passion and the love.

Watching a WNBA basketball game the other day brought back all kinds of memories. What fun it would have been when I was playing basketball in my high school and college days to have known that there was a career possible in the sport that I loved so much. And of course, my mind wander back to those early days in that small high school gymnasium in the basement of my high school in Lansing, Iowa.

My first games were played with the floor divided into three parts. Two players played guard in the back third, two played running center in the middle third, and two played forward in the front third. While I was still in high school, the rules changed and the court was divided into two parts. Three played guard in the back court, and three played forward in the front court. I tried to play with the boys sometimes because I loved having the whole court for play. And I loved being able to dribble on the whole court. We could only take one dribble. It was a challenge to see how far you could make that one dribble take you. But we played our one-dribble-two-court game with passion. We felt lucky in Iowa because not many states had girls basketball at all.

I loved basketball; I still do. I love to watch my granddaughters play. I loved playing enough to sneak out of the house for school the morning I woke up with a rash on my face and, of course, in other areas of my body. I knew something was amiss, but we had a game to play that Tuesday night, and I wasn’t going to miss it. Of course, I got no further than the first teacher I met at school, my coach. He saw me and recognized that I had measles. I really didn’t feel ill, but I obviously was sent home. My mother was not happy. I think probably she was more embarrassed because the teachers might think she sent me to school with the measles. She was pretty strict about right and wrong. Going to school with measles was wrong, but sneaking out was like lying. That was really bad.

The girls played the first game of the evening and the boys games followed. We were always pleased when we could draw the crowd to our game. We had tournaments just like the boys. Boys and girls in our school had the same coach. Eddie Albertson was a special guy. He was not only my coach; he was a mentor, my math teacher who gave me advanced math books for the summer because we didn’t have the classes in our small high school, and he was my friend. We played “HORSE” after we finished practice. He believed in me; he never “let” me win. When I did, it was pure accomplishment. He helped me to understand my athletic and academic gifts. He pushed me to find my own “yellow brick road.”

So many memories. Harpers Ferry had the biggest pot-belly stove I have ever seen to heat their barn-like gym. It was nice and warm within fifteen or twenty feet of the stove. The rest of the gym was freezing as was the classroom where we changed our clothes. Wow. I can still feel that cold. Sometimes we would stop on our way home after games out of town to have a snack. Mother always managed to have a little change for me. We never ate out so these little restaurant visits were pretty special. Waterville had sisters who were amazing shooters; Gronna sisters, I think. I envied them because they had a basket on the side of their barn and they practiced all summer. I didn’t have a barn nor could I afford a basket or a basketball.

The coach helped me buy a pair of leather basketball shoes; it was such an amazing luxury. Do you know how proud a little girl can be of a pair of leather basketball shoes? We had a little shower in our locker room; some places we went did not. I earned letters all four years in basketball and kittenball (softball). Those letters meant I earned a great deal of respect from my peers, but more importantly, I knew I had been given great physical and mental gifts. In my small town, those gifts often languished into submission to mediocrity. As each year has passed, I realize how fortunate I was to have Eddie Albertson as my coach and to work for the Superintendent who had a sign in his office that read: There’s always room at the top.

Those were the days of three-court basketball, short basketball pants, cold gyms, cold showers, getting to the game with very cold hands and feet after walking to the game and wondering if they would ever warm up. They were times of listening to the cheers, seeing the pride on your parents’ faces, getting the accolades of the teachers the next day, being elected captain of the team, and loving the coach. They were times of walking into a market and having the owner say, “Great game, Sylvia,” when normally they didn’t know I existed. And they were times when I had to walk home after practice and sometimes it was pretty scary. I could choose to walk through a pasture where there was a bull, or I could walk the road past the city dump. But my dad always told me I could run faster than anything chasing me.

They were times of expectation and happiness. I was very good at this game I loved. I learned there how to excel. I learned how to outthink my opponent. I learned the value of every minute; a game has only so many minutes. The importance of one minute on the outcome of the next, taught me life lessons. I would try to live my life like I played basketball. Give it my all, play fair, solve the problems at hand, listen to advice from those who cared about me, discard the criticism of those who envied or were trying to hurt me, play with passion, and learn from each experience. I learned that I  had been given by my Creator everything that I needed to play the game. Yes, I had been given gifts, but I knew that gifts unopened were of no value. They needed to be used, expanded, shared, and utilized to serve others.

Basketball was a field of dreams whether it was three or two courts. I was quick and very fast; I can only imagine the fun I would have had playing the whole court. But believe me, I play full court in all that I do at 92.


At the End of the Driveway: The Blackberry Bush and the Red-Tailed Hawk

I took my grateful walk this morning; as usual, I stopped at the end of the driveway to contemplate my blessings. The breeze was blowing gently and the palms responded, swaying with gentle precision to the commands of the breeze. The shadows appeared and disappeared as expected. I was struck with the beauty of it all and the calm and natural way the things happened.

I looked through the gate at the mammoth blackberry bush just outside, sprawling and spreading itself at will. This volunteer blackberry plant, the gift of my bird family, apparently knows more about itself than I do. You see, I planted several blackberry vines in another “appropriate place” only to find them never quite happy there. But this vine, now eight or ten feet in diameter, has carved out its own destiny. The berries are almost ready.

I have told you about my red-tailed hawk that has made its home in the palm at the end of the driveway. It comes to visit occasionally. The most amazing visit was a few nights ago when I was sitting on my patio with a friend having a wonderful chat. All of a sudden we were both silent, staring at each other with a look that comes only with special wonderment about an event, sight, or sound.

A red-tailed hawk swooped down to the top of the umbrella pole at the table where we were sitting, picked up its prey and was gone with unimaginable swiftness. What poor rodent, at least my friend said it had a tail like a rat, made the mistake of hiding in the top of the umbrella, we’re not certain.   But the stunning silence of the approach and the quickness of the snatch completely astonished us. It came and went with its prey clutched tightly and we never heard a sound. We both agreed we had never experienced such an amazingly successful hunting expedition. I am stunned daily as I watch them  hunt, soar, and glide across my sky, But as I thought about it at the end of my driveway this morning, I was hoping the hawk would do a fly-over so I could thank it for the untold joy it brings. My friend and I will always be saying to each other,  “Remember the evening that the hawk…”

And there are so many more things at the end of my driveway besides the blackberry bush and the hawk. The most important things that are always in my gratitude walk are my family, especially my incredible four grandchildren, (Colin, Kera, Hailey, and Cassidy), my faith, my friends, and my love of my country that I fight every day to preserve for those I love.

Memorial Day Memories Past – What Does the Future Hold?

So many Memorial Days; so many memories. Today is number 97. Of course, I don’t remember them all, but even when I was a very small child, I know I was participating in a parade, decorating the graves of not only those we honored, but those we loved, respected and wanted to remember. But I knew very early that some graves had flags. I learned very early that these were those special people who went off to war to protect us. I wasn’t very old when my Uncle John filled me in on what that meant. I don’t know exactly what year it was when I started to recognize the horrors of war as he related experiences in the Spanish-American conflict.

As a child I remember eagerly awaiting and watching for the peony, snowball, and bridal wreath bushes to bloom. Mother would check occasionally to see how they were progressing; would they be ready for “Decoration Day”? We had no greenhouse to force the blooms. We just had to wait. Our other possible supply was nature; we would sometimes take a stroll just to see what the fields and hills around us might be able to fill in. There were those very special occasions when mother would nurse plants all through the winter to have a geranium to fill in.

From the time I started playing an instrument in a school band, marching to the cemetery to participate in Memorial Day was on the calendar. In high school, we marched from the high school to the cemetery. Of course, we complained a lot. The walk was too long; it was too hot; it was cold and where was summer. But we knew that was what we would do on Memorial Day. That’s where most of the town would be–singing the National Anthem, listening to speeches, listening quietly as names were read, looking at the men in uniform, and there was always an invocation and a benediction. And we always hoped we could find a ride back to the high school. You can never forget the pride with which those men wore their uniform every Memorial Day even when it got a little tight. You absorbed that kind of pride and love when you heard them say how proud they were to serve this country that they loved. You learned early what it meant when they cried as they talked about the bravest of all, those who didn’t make it back alive, or how fortunate they were to make it back safe and sound.

During college years, I was able to be home by Memorial Day. I didn’t have to march to the cemetery nor worry about the state of the flowers, but I knew that Memorial Day was still a day to remember. And then Pearl Harbor happened. I was still in college, but graduated the next spring in 1942. I got home for Memorial Day and already some of my former classmates had joined the service. They were already fighting and dying in places that I had never heard of before. Just a short four years before we had marched to Oak Hill Cemetery and sat listening to the names of those who had sacrificed their lives for their country, for me and the citizens around me. And now some of their names had been added to that list. We had carried instruments to play music together and now they were carrying instruments of war or serving aboard ship, or driving a jeep or truck or tank in a land with unfamiliar terrain, climate, or name.

The 1942 Memorial Day was not only a few days after my graduation from college, it was a staggering entrance into new meaning to me for any Memorial Day to follow. Before the next Memorial Day would come, I had raised my right hand and pledged myself to serve in the United States Navy. It is something I could not have dreamed of a few short months earlier. But War changes lives rapidly. When Pearl Harbor was struck, a tsunami of national pride, anger, patriotism, and anxiety rolled over the land.

The next two Memorial Days were spent in the Navy. At the huge base where I was stationed in Tennessee, I watched daily as the men trained. I knew they would soon be in harm’s way. They were from every corner of our great country; Memorial Day in their hometown would never be the same. Their families would be sitting or standing at a Memorial Day ceremony with pride in their service, or tears in their eyes as their name was read in remembrance of those who gave their lives for their country.

World War II was a war that ended. You became a veteran; your husband was a veteran, and you both hoped that your two sons would never have to be veterans because they saw military service in a war; you prayed for peace.

I grew up believing that Memorial Day meant just that: a day to remember those who scarified their lives for the country that they loved. When you pledge to serve your country and you put on the uniform of any branch of the military, you give up a lot of freedoms you pledge to fight and die for. Yet we do it because we want freedom for our children and grandchildren, for friends and neighbors, and as a model for the world.

When I took off the uniform, I didn’t  lose the values that I held when I put it on, nor did I lose my oath to uphold the Constitution. Nor did I forget the words, “so help me God” that I spoke. My job is no less now than it was then; it just may be a little more clear. I will always fight to remain free.