The Day of What Ifs

Wilt Chamberlain answering reporters questions after a playoff game in 1968 entitled “NOW LIKE I WAS TELLING THE KNICKS”

Since we’re all about finding games to play these days, board games aren’t the only way to have some fun, let’s play the what if game. It’s especially appropriate if we go back to this exact day in history in 1968 when it all started.

It’s the day the playoffs stopped, not for everyone the way it has today, just for Dad. He broke his wrist.

A wonderful sports writer of the time, George Kiseda, wrote about Dad’s injury for the Evening Bulletin on March 28, 1968. It brought me back to the days when there was a game and the story wouldn’t appear in the paper until the following day. Dad said that if they played in California, because of the three hour time difference, it would be in the paper two days later.

Here’s what Kiseda had to say:

THE DOCTORS at Temple University Hospital told Billy Cunningham his right wrist was broken in three places and the first thing Cunningham did was remind them he is left-handed and suggest that maybe he could wear a cast and play against the Knicks in New York Saturday.

“I have to do what I do with my little boy,” Dr. Stan Lorber said, giving Cunningham the Tastykake sign, “Time out.”

Dr. Lorber explained to Cunningham that the steel pins will have to be placed in his arm and his basketball session is over.

“What if we play Boston or Detroit (after New York)?” Cunningham wanted to know.

“If you play Boston or Detroit in eight weeks,” Dr. Charles Parsons said, “you’ll be ready.”

The Evening Bulletin, March 28, 1968

I just loved the Tastykake time out sign. I wonder if that was around when I was little, I don’t remember it. But anyway, Dad remembered the three steel pins sticking out of his hand and he couldn’t imagine what he was thinking wanting to play with the other hand. He was going through a bit of the Peter Pan Syndrome that we talked about last week, he was young and he thought the most important thing was to play ball. However, it did make him quite the weatherman–he could predict whether it was going to precipitate the following day.

I asked Dad how hard was it not to be able to play. It was a dumb question, knowing Dad, he’s not one to let pain get in his way, or anything, for that matter. He’s the only person I know who prefers to have an operation without anesthesia so he can drive himself home afterwards. He couldn’t have taken it lightly.

He said it was heartbreaking sitting on the bench, he just had to show up at a certain time, and do nothing. But it did bring up an interesting point, it got Dad to wonder what if.

What if gale-force winds hadn’t blown off a portion of the roof of the old Spectrum on South Broad Street and they didn’t need an alternate place to play that night? They played in the Palestra, where the University of Pennsylvania plays, only there’s no give to the floor. It’s a permanent floor laid over concrete. At the Spectrum, they put something over the ice, then they laid the floor so there was a bit of space between the floor and the ice, which gave it a trampoline effect with less bounce. “I might not have broken my wrist if we’d played at the Spectrum.”

What if he’d been able to play in the remainder of that playoff series? They would have still won against New York, like they did, but what if they could have beat Boston? They would have won the World Championship a second year in a row. “We were trying to repeat as World Champions. At the end of that year Wilt was traded to LA. “

What if Dad had been healthy and he’d been able to play and they had won, would Wilt have been traded? Would it have ended his career as a 76er?

There’s a bit of backstory here, Wilt was led to believe by Ike Richman, part owner of the 76ers along with Irving Kosloff, that he’d get a piece of ownership of the team; Ike died earlier that year and Kosloff wouldn’t honor the gentleman’s agreement. In other words, the trade was a disaster.

And there in the July 11, 1968 Evening Bulletin, Kiseda wrote about it, however briefly:

All around the National Basketball Association they were still reacting 24 hours after The Trade, the biggest in the history of basketball and maybe in the history of all sports (because when was the last time an MVP was discarded?)

The Evening Bulletin, July 11, 1968

I was really warming up to this sports reporter so I looked him up. Unfortunately he had died of dementia in 2007, and Dad said he was sorry to hear about that because he was such a brilliant, albeit opinionated, man. When I mentioned to Dad that I read that Kiseda was well loved, he laughed and said he wouldn’t know about that. George wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. He’d get in a precarious situation, and everyone else would have kept their mouth shut, but he’d stick his nose in anyway even if it got him into trouble.

So this is how the what if game started on this very day in history. What if we bring George Kiseda’s opinionated spirit back and play the what if game on this day in 2020, where might that lead us? Let’s turn to this week’s experts gathered by TEDConnects for daily conversations in their new Community and Hope series. I watched them all and then summed up each one as a what if statement.

Sandy David, Psychologist studying emotional agility, on March 23: What if we move away from our mind and into our hearts and come into our emotions, however scary they might be, and observe them for what they teach us about our values? In fact, having what Susan calls emotional agility can lead us to see beyond the soul and experience the person behind the person. It’s something we all need right now. https://youtu.be/Xgyh0juINNI

Bill Gates, the only guest who doesn’t need an introduction (according to head of TED Chris Anderson), on March 24: What if we go into Bill Gates mind and see the world working together through innovation and science? Early on he poured $100 million into his foundation to administer easy and cheap testing and develop vaccines. He says we must quarantine, there is no middle ground with this, we must quarantine now, but if we do it well, within 20 days we will see a difference, and within 6-10 weeks we could get somewhere. “The economic effects are drastic, but that’s more reversible than bringing people back to life.” https://youtu.be/Xe8fIjxicoo

Gary Liu, CEO of South China Morning Post, on March 25: What if we were to learn from Hong Kong’s example of the selflessness of their citizens (they have a social memory of SARS)? “My hope is that the citizens of the US take this seriously.” He said it doesn’t matter if you’re not sick, young, don’t fear dire consequences of death, if you’re possibly an asymptomatic carrier that’s enough to keep you at home. https://youtu.be/KIh2-S2jXls

Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of GAVI, The Vaccine Alliance, on March 26: What if we prioritize health and support scientists and applaud politicians who are making tough decisions and doing good? With a united world and financial backing, science and technology can stop this and prepare for the next one. It typically takes 10-15 years to generate a vaccine and they are trying to accelerate this in 18 months. https://www.ted.com/talks/seth_berkley_the_quest_for_the_coronavirus_vaccine?utm_campaign=tedspread&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=tedcomshare

Priya Parker, Author The Art of Gathering, on March 27: What if we make meaningful gatherings within our family, social circles, community, our businesses and through our legislature (think of the purpose of town hall) now that we’re physically apart? If we decide what is essential now and think about how we gather, it will change from day to day and week to week, it will be contagious. Others will do this, too. We can do this. “We can shape our collective reality together.”

The pre-recorded video isn’t available at the time of this writing so I’m sending you to her website instead: https://www.priyaparker.com

So we played the what if game today, there’s something about March 27 that made us do it. We looked at the past and imagined if Wilt had stayed to play for the 76ers, the world would have played out a lot differently. And now we’re playing the game again on the same day in 2020. What if people actually listen to the experts and be the members of the community that we are meant to be?

What if…it’s a great game.

A Muse 4 You: All of these what ifs came to being because we imagined what if Wilt had lived out his career as a 76er? They would have kept their wonderful team united and won a lot more championships. What if we don’t treat this coronavirus as one of the worst trades in sports history and we stay together this time around? What championships might we be able to win?

The Peter Pan Syndrome

Here’s Dad from Grandma’s scrapbook, even then he was trying to escape boredom

With all entertainment taken away from us (except good, old fashioned board games, books, puzzles and walks around the neighborhood), we still have technology, American Idol, video games for some and my blog posts. This shutdown gives us a great excuse to delve into a topic that is so very difficult to address when life is going on as usual.

Here’s Dad trying to give up the ball, albeit for a foul shot when he was playing for UNC-Chapel Hill. Another great photo from Grandma’s scrapbook.

I had heard my Dad talk about it a lot, the hardest thing about basketball was giving it up. I also always heard how he didn’t have a choice but to leave, he had an injury, which ruined his career. (The same injury my dog has, incidentally).

I was in first grade and I remember Sr. Mary in the front of the class, saying, “Mr. Cunningham is in the hospital. He had an injury. Today we’re going to write him a letter, but we need to learn how.” I remember realizing whatever had happened to him must have been really serious because why else were we taking our class time to write him a letter?

I didn’t process the pain he had to endure both physically and mentally, not until later. A sports photographer had captured Dad lying on the court, writhing in pain. Any time the injury would come up, Mom would go on a tirade about how she hated that picture. Somehow, as much as she despised it, she did save one in the newspaper stash in the basement, but I know better than to post it here.

On the black board was a sample letter which read: “Dear Mr. Cunningham, I hope you get better soon. Sincerely, Your name.”

And so I got out my pencil and paper (we weren’t allowed to write in pen those days) and I addressed it exactly as the teacher had taught us: “Dear Mr. Cunningham”. My parents must have gotten a big kick out of that. I wish in all our saved papers, I could have found that letter. But you’ll just have to take my word for it.

His career ended abruptly, just like all these players (and all of Broadway and all of these community theaters and non-essential businesses who are all closed right now, at least in our neck of the woods, and most likely in yours, too).

But as we’ve seen from this forced shut down, it’s not easy to give up something that you love so much. It brings me back to the paper that I wrote in college, The Peter Pan Syndrome, that I alluded to when I wrote Dare To Be Great. https://stephanieortiz.com/2020/02/28/dare-to-be-great/ I wrote that paper hoping to pinpoint this very real phenomenon that hits professional athletes, and now that we have felt it so acutely in our own lives, we can all somehow better relate.

After graduation, I did rewrite the paper and tried publishing it. I changed the name to No Time Left. I like Peter Pan Syndrome better and should have just stuck with that, but it didn’t get published anyway, so it didn’t matter. But more on that later. So here’s the article. I’ll spare you all the typos, thank goodness for modern amenities like spell check, and I stop periodically to add my current day comments. There has to be something new to say after 30 years…

No Time Left, 00:00

Basketball stars aren’t able to stay in Never Never Land and never grow up like Peter Pan did, so they need to learn to look beyond their dream and plan for their future.

“Today you will see the Michael Jordan’s doing really well and being successful off the basketball court, but you have to look beyond the success stories to others,” said Ron Sayers of Professional Athletes’ Career Enterprises (PACE), a San Diego human research development company for professional and elite-amateur athletes.

PACE doesn’t exist anymore, but trying to find it 30 years later, brings me back to the very kind rejection letter I received from Pat McLoone, The Sports Editor of The Philadelphia Daily News, on January 13, 1992. I had asked for any feedback and here’s point number two: what kind of organization is PACE Sports? Sadly, I found one mention of them in an article from 1992 in Black Enterprises.


But even if PACE doesn’t exist anymore, it doesn’t diminish what Ron Sayer said back in 1990.

“There are other players who have a sense of denial which I call the Peter Pan Syndrome. I don’t want to grow up, I want to play forever.”

In high school athletes can get addicted to all the attention they receive. “The halo that you come to class with when you have done really well is put there by everybody. Teachers forget that you are a student and administrators can let you float.”

The transition from athlete to ex-athlete isn’t smooth or glamorous–no more pampering, competition and cheering fans in packed buildings. No more media hounding at your feet, no people pulling on your coattails and no autograph seekers. And for processionals, no more money.”

But Dad reiterated yesterday that “it’s not about the money, it’s about the realization: what am I going to do with the rest of my life?…For me it was easy, I had no other options to hang around and continue my career because of the fear of what to do.”

When the dream-come-true comes to an end, the veteran athlete must face a sobering reality with a deflated ego.

Former 76ers coach and player Bill Cunningham said, “By the age of 35 if you stick with a job, that’s when the job starts getting good whereas with the professional athlete it’s the complete reversal. At the age of 35, the athlete’s got to go through that learning process that others have already done.”

Sports Psychologist Christina Versari of PACE sports studied Brazil’s 1987 Olympic Judo team and found that the older the athlete, the harder the transition and the more depression felt. She said that older athletes haven’t faced enough transitions. She plans to do a similar study on basketball players and she believes she will find similar results.

I tried contacting Christina Versari as a quick google search led me to find her and she is still a Sport Psychology Consultant working with NBA players helping them prepare for their second careers. But since she is also Director of the Sports Psychology Program at San Diego University, with all that’s going on in the world, I didn’t expect she’d have any time on her hands to reminisce.

However, I was so happy to hear from Dad that this topic lives on with today’s players when he shared with me that Milwaukee Buck player Pat Connaughton tweeted that current affairs is a realization of what it would be like when the game’s over. He all ready has established a second career to ease the transition when his playing days are over as highlighted in the New York Times article published on February 13, 2020.

It’s wonderful to see how he’s preparing himself for the end of the road as an athlete.

He has a landing page and a website and is vocal about it on Twitter.

@pconnaughton Random thought – this is like a simulation of retirement for pro athletes. What are we gonna focus on when our careers end? What’s our day to day schedule look like? Interesting time to think about it and experiment with different ideas… Strive to be more than an athlete!
8:49 PM · Mar 17, 2020

With 78 comments, 225 retweets and 4.6K hearts, he got his point across. Although CJ McCollum who plays for the Portland Trail Blazers joked back, @CJMcCollum “Only difference is that we will be traveling and actually able to take the kids to school lol.”

We’re all looking forward to the day we’ll be back to traveling and taking the kids to school again, but meanwhile, whether the game forces an athlete to say goodbye or the athlete chooses to say goodbye first, it’s not an easy road.

Former 76ers player Julius Erving faced his retirement eight years in advance, he said in a telephone interview. He said he was inspired and obsessed to find a life outside of basketball because of the stories he heard about athletes who couldn’t find happiness for five to 10 years after retiring. “I wanted to be happy the day after I stopped playing. I didn’t want to wait that long.”

Erving’s key to success after 16 years on the court was simple. “I knew it would take more than one thing to fill the void.” Golf took care of his competitive nature and multiple businesses let him use his mind and creativity. He also used the time to catch up with his family.

He said he thinks the transition was toughest on his wife and four children who couldn’t plan for the end.

They knew one particular lifestyle and one particular life circumstance. They were the ones who had to deal with a more dramatic change, and I was the dictator of that change.”

Back to Pat McLoone’s kind rejection letter. To be fair, he said, “I enjoyed the piece you wrote. It was an interesting subject and your thorough research is evident. The pace of your writing was fine as well. But since you asked, here are three mild criticisms.” Here’s point number three: “As a reader I would like to know more specifics about Julius’ business interests.”

I wonder what I felt when I read this letter. I don’t remember it, honestly. It makes me laugh now because to me that seemed so irrelevant to the story. Nowadays I could have just done a quick search and could fill in the gaps so easily, but back then it would have meant calling Mr. Erving up and asking him to elaborate on his multiple businesses.

We definitely didn’t have the resources available to us that we do today. Yes, that’s a dot matrix printer and a floppy diskette.

Senator Bill Bradley, a Rhodes Scholar who played professional basketball in the 60s, wrote in his book “Life On The Run” that the athlete approaches the end of his playing days the way an old person approaches death.

“He puts his finances in order. He reminisces easily. He offers advice to the young. But an athlete differs from an old person in that he must continue living.”

Cunningham said in a telephone interview that his knee injury, which put an end to his eleven-year career, was a blessing in disguise.

Doesn’t this sound familiar? Yes, some stories never change, and just like Bill Bradley wrote in his book, “he offers advice to the young”–if that isn’t Dad in a nutshell, although Dad went into much more depth about this in 1990.

“Initially when I hurt my knee, I tried to prove the doctor’s wrong. But when I look back on it, I never had to look in the mirror and think about whether I was getting too old, or if my skills were eroding. I never had to say: it’s the coach, it’s the system, if I could just play more time, I’d be as productive as I ever was. And I never had to be in the position where a coach had to say, you’re through.”

“That was the toughest thing as a coach–to tell a young man that his dream had come to an end,” Cunningham said from his memories of coaching the 76ers. “They would sit there and just cry; they would beg for just one more try.”

Sayers said that coaches, administrators and others can stress academics and the odds of success only so much. In the end, a good transition, and a healthy transition, starts with the family and the high school system that integrates the athlete.

UNC-Chapel Hill Coach Dean E. Smith said in an interview, “The athletes of some sports are put on a pedestal…if they get too much attention early from family and friends, it slows their maturity.”

Seeing that quote brought dear Dean Smith back to life for a moment. What an adored coach he was for UNC-Chapel Hill and such a supportive and loving friend to the family; we miss him so. A beautiful pause in his memory. Oh, and Sayers is up next.

Sayers said that many athletes need to learn that their skills apply to the business world so they can communicate that they are real people with goals while they are playing.

“When society sees athletes making decisions with leather balls in their hands, they don’t see that this can be applied directly to a work setting.” According to a PACE study, the athlete has nine out of 10 qualities of successful California business people.

“Magic Johnson has not just lived off his recognition, but he has found relationships. The people around him are really helping him,” Sayers said.

As a part owner of the Miami Heat, Cunningham said he gets at least one resume every two weeks from retired players, who are willing to do anything that is basketball-related.

Sayers said, “While the guys are active they are influential and highly visible, they are able to use their opportunities. But once the doors close, they lock. The hands that patted them on the back, really are waving good-bye.”

Let’s face it, it’s a multi-million dollar business out there and everyone wants a piece of the pie. We need to cut the umbilical cord very quickly-not when they leave college.”

I sobered up when I read Dad saying the guys would cry begging him for one more chance. It was amazing to re-read this and to think that Bill Bradley is now a former US Senator and that Dean Smith is no longer with us. It’s also fascinating to read the feedback about what I needed to work on.

My number one criticism, drum roll please, “I would not have quoted your father. He is a very valid subject for the piece; he is, after all, a perfect example of an athlete who has succeeded after his playing days were over. For any other writer, his words would be valid. For you, though, it really isn’t proper. He’s too close to you, so your objectivity would have to be affected.”

I love it, the number one reason why I should have just waited 30 years to write a blog instead!

But seriously, McLoone’s still going strong as a sports editor. Here’s an article he just wrote.

. https://www.inquirer.com/sports/coronavirus-covid-19-sports-readers-20200317.html?__vfz=medium%3Dsharebar

So there you have it, some things never change, and some things would have blown our minds away had we been able to look into the future and see thirty years forward.

In 6th Grade Mom had a ball boy uniform made for me for Halloween. We’d gather in a semicircle and one-by-one we’d go up and get judged. I won first prize that year.

And as I mentioned, I did get an A+ on my paper for my journalism class. People always did like when I let them in on a secret or two about my Dad. Here are the teacher’s remarks, “Stephanie, I wish you had done this level of work consistently and early in the semester. But I’m grateful that you will build a successful career on the strength of this story. The semester grade will go up to an A-. Come to see me next semester if you need me.”

Well, my college teacher’s prediction did come true, I did build something off of that paper. It only took a 30 year quarantine before it saw the light of day and became a blog post. Funny I was so worried about writing Dad in my letter in first grade and then to learn at 21 years old that I shouldn’t be quoting him. No wonder why it took me another 30 years to finally come out with it already. But I think both my teachers would be proud, if I could maintain my objectivity in first grade (I knew enough to write Mr. Cunningham and not Dad), I can do it again now. And writing these posts are fun and a lot easier with all our new technology. I’m finally doing something with that A!

Here’s the pants I wore for Halloween in 6th Grade. Since my daughter who looks like me is in 6th Grade now I thought it would be fun to take a picture of her wearing them, only they look like floods on her, plus we can’t find the jacket. And did I mention how itchy they are?

A Muse 4 You: Has the Peter Pan Syndrome ever happened to you? What have you had to give up that you loved and how might you be able to use your story to motivate others who are going through something similar?


Quarantines, Travel Restrictions & Scammers

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is holly-copy.jpg
See how Holly’s favoring her left hip? It hasn’t seemed to have stopped her! She’s still waiting by the door ready for her three-legged walk.

All this talk about quarantining, stockpiling, social distancing, travel restrictions, remote schooling, canceling games, parades and large gatherings, oh my! I’m not going to let the, ahem, dare I say it?, let’s just stick with international pandemic, weigh me down. I’m not going to live my life out of mass hysteria. But even now my calendar is reminding me that I was supposed to be going to see Come From Away tomorrow on Broadway. We had planned a group trip and we had to postpone it. It reminds me of when you lose electricity and your routine is upended and you do stupid things like forget to brush your teeth. All these sweeping reforms in our lives have put us all over the edge, even the most well-intentioned of us.

But all I need to know I can learn from my three-legged dog. And before you think she’s that smart, I’ll remind you she did some soft tissue damage to her hip while she was outside chasing the deer–on the other side of the fence. Putting aside why she did it, take away one leg and she hobbles around expertly on three. She feels no need to curtail her walks because she loves them so. I’m the one pulling her to come back home. If only I could keep living my life, too, and not make decisions based off of fear but off of love.

But I had no decisions to worry about. I wasn’t one of those poor people stuck quarantined on a cruise ship. And luckily we hadn’t made travel plans for spring break to have them canceled. We were going to be in Twelfth Night instead. I was grateful that I wasn’t impacted in the least.

When we tried out for Twelfth Night in November it was the same time we started planning to take our local community groups to Broadway to see Come From Away. Both were to come to fruition in March. And here we are, it’s March, and both events are postponed.

What makes it all the worse is you can’t look backwards or forward with this thing. If we had a crystal ball back in November and it showed us life right now, we would have laughed ourselves silly. Do we still even believe it’s happening? And if we look into the future, it just seems so grim.

Even last week I wouldn’t have believed that my kids would be home today because the governor ordered all schools in our county to be closed. I couldn’t have even made up the buzz words of today: “remote schooling” and “Google classroom”.

We’d shake our heads in disbelief that colleges would be doing the same thing. That this thing would be shaking us up and down and right and left, on a micro and a macro level. And, never, ever, ever, ever would we imagine that there’d be no NBA, no NHL and no NCAA. It couldn’t possibly happen to me let alone them, too?

How did we get sent to our rooms and grounded and have all our sources of entertainment taken away from us? But that’s not the worst part, we’re not allowed to hug anyone or shake hands and we have to keep our social distance.

How did life turn upside down in the blink of an eye? We didn’t even have a chance to argue our point. It just happened. Decisions just started making themselves for us.

There was Twelfth Night, it was just Monday night and we were at our last practice, unbeknownst to us, and we had reached that stage when you don’t think you can possibly get good enough to pull it off. Every show has that moment. A good director uses it as that turning point where everyone realizes they have serious work to do; they shift into first gear. It plays particularly well with the dread of embarrassment. Get your act together. We had committed to doing a double practice this Sunday. And then, early Tuesday morning we got the notice that the school, where we rent the auditorium, had canceled our show. They even canceled their own show. It’s merely a postponement, but it hit so hard because how do you stop jumping in mid-air?

It all seemed so ridiculous. Why would they cancel? Maybe they hadn’t done enough deep cleaning or special spray aerosol? There was still plenty of hope because, thank goodness, we could still go see Come From Away this Saturday. It could lift our spirits. Broadway never closes unless the government makes them do so. They had only ever closed for 9/11.

We didn’t think of ourselves as the ones who had to make a decision. We had our group of 54. It’s not like we had anything to worry about. We’d have minimal exposure. We’d be on the bus, then we’d be in the broadway rehearsal space and then we’d walk (not take the subway) to the restaurant (we’d bring our disinfectant wipes and use them there) and then we’d be right across the street to the theater.

We were beginning to field questions from people who were leery of going so we told everyone as a group if Broadway was open, we’d be going, but we understand that money is not worth your health and if you feel you cannot go, honor that inner voice.

We had nothing to worry about, right? Ok, we were beginning to worry. Was it fear based? We were too close to tell.

Some schools were already streaming concerts without audiences. Could you imagine having a play without an audience? It seemed like the kiss of death. But this was life before the NCAA announced they’d play the game without fans and a lifetime before they canceled the games altogether.

It was Wednesday night and the NCAA made the announcement they’d play without fans. It seemed like a slap in the face. All the energy comes from the fans. Without fans, was it really even worth playing? It was painful to even think about, but less painful than thinking of them not playing at all, we couldn’t go there yet. It was only Wednesday, remember? We still had to mourn the loss of the fans. Think of the stadium near empty. Hear the talking in the stands among the family members who’d be the only ones allowed to attend.

We had to start sobering up to the idea that life isn’t really the same. It’s not what it was and it’s not what we expect it to be. Somehow it’s different, whether we’re fearful or not.

And I woke up Thursday morning and it was all starting to feel surreal. I was the person in the dream who had to make a decision to get me out of it only once I made that decision I was still going to be in that dream. People were advised not to go on our trip, people were getting scared. I knew beyond a doubt that we had to call the box office as soon as they opened and beg to get our trip postponed, so the group wouldn’t be out any money.

The three of us group leaders had already agreed to do that the night before, so it’s not like it was a new idea, only by Thursday the idea was screaming at me so insanely loud it had to be dealt with. I no longer had time to feel sorry because life was somehow so drastically different than I wanted it to be.

The mayor of NYC had spoken that morning and said they didn’t want to shut down Broadway and they’d be taking more careful measures. That was great, but what measures were we taking to ensure everyone’s money didn’t get lost in the shuffle? We had a duty to preserve everyone’s money and not sit around and act like sitting ducks waiting for Broadway to make a decision. We had to make our trip still worth something, even to the people over 60 who could be severely compromised if they went. Fear or not, we had to postpone. So one of our group leaders made the call. I told him I had faith in him, he had been the one who had made the contact, it was best if he did it alone. If they refused him, I’d try calling as backup only. It wasn’t hard for him; he didn’t have to convince the dear man on the other end of the call at all. He arranged it so that everyone lost nothing.

I never came closer to understanding how hard a decision it is to make these tough calls. But somehow you just have to come to that place where you rise above the crowd, to that place where there are no fans, and in that quiet, you finally know what you have to do because the quiet will be replaced by a ruckus inside of you is far greater than anything going on in the external world.

I was disappointed about it and couldn’t shake it even though so many in the group wrote and supported our decision and thanked us for saving their money. It was a choice that made itself. If I had my way, it wouldn’t have been what I would have wanted and that’s what I was grappling with: the loss, everyone’s losses. What we all have had to endure because life is somehow different now and we don’t understand why.

And hours later Broadway went dark. How do the curtains close on Broadway? And think of the difficult decision they had to make. But then it happened in sports and on our very own small stage and in our schools. It’s happening not just in my corner of the world, it’s happening everywhere.

And in the midst of all this craziness, there was hope. Another kind of hope. You see, even with quarantines and travel restrictions and mass confusion and trying to make sense of this surreal world, there’s always scammers. Even while we’ve lost our footing and don’t know which way is up, they haven’t lost their game. But if ever there’s a story of hope, here it is.

Our dear friend, she’s worked for the family so long she is one of the family, she knows better than anyone who calls the house. She picked it up and it was this voice she’d heard before. Usually the person says, “Grandma” and she says, “You have the wrong number” and she hangs up. But on this particular day, she decided she’d play with him.

So when he said, “Grandma”, she said, “Yes, how are you?”

He said, “Don’t be upset, I was in a car accident.” So she laid it on thick, “What? You were in a car accident? When?”

He must have been thinking how easy could this be when he said, “Now” and she then asked with such concern she was even fooling me, “Are you all right?”

“Yes, I just broke my nose.” She said he didn’t sound like he had broken his nose because he would have been talking funny, but she stayed her course of the non suspecting Grandma, “But what happened?”

So he said, “I had been to my friend’s funeral over in Jersey and I got in a car accident, I broke my nose, but I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.”

“Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God,” she said. Her voice was practically piercing; it had gone up an octave. “Are you okay?”

“Yes, but someone else was involved.”

“Oh God,” she said. Near hysteria, but the sarcasm cannot be lost. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Oh God.”

“I hit them, but it was a pregnant woman.”

She continued saying “Oh God” this time only twice. She sounded so concerned as if it really was her grandson.

“Grandma,” he said. Maybe even touched by the love she had for him. “It’s okay. It’s okay. But the police came and they locked me up.”

“Why would they lock you up?” She asked incredulously even though she remembered the exact story from the news a few nights back. A lawyer had gotten nearly scammed with the same story; but with him they had found a way to mimic his son’s voice and he actually believed he was talking to his son.

“At the funeral, I had a couple of drinks so they gave me a breathalizer. Of course, I had the alcohol on my breath so they took me to jail.” He was playing on her emotions, he could have come up with any story here and if she was truly worked up to a point of hysteria she would have believed him.

“What? Oh God. What do I need to do?” She had him like putty in her hand, while he thought it was the other way around.

“Grandma, calm down. Calm down. Calm down. They’re gonna need money to let me out.”

“What kind of money?”

“They’re setting the bail for $10,000.”

“You mean I have to give you $10,000?” but she paused, as if she was quickly doing the math. “You mean, 10% of the $10,000?” This should have set him off guard that this was no ordinary Grandma. But she did the math wrong because she was thinking about the lawyers numbers and calculated 10% of $10,000 as being $2,000 not $1,000 but her mistake would be in his favor.

He’d take that, “Yes, $2,000.”

“How am I supposed to get this to you?” She sounded flustered.

“Grandma, this guy is going to call you.”

“He’s going to call me? But where are you calling from?” Ah, again, he should have detected how smart of a question that was.

“Oh, it’s a pay phone, but he’s going to call you back on this number.”

She had never even looked to see if the number said scam on it when she answered it. It most likely had. “Ok, but you know what,” she said in her high-pitched voice, “This is the best scam of all because I just heard this two days ago.”

So then he started calling her names that I don’t need to repeat here and she answered back, so calmly, so matter of fact, “Your mother.”

And that’s when he screamed at her, “Why’d you keep saying Oh my God? Why’d you keep saying Oh my God?”

Kind of like the role reversal at the end of a mystery when the detective solves the case and the bad guy who’s been caught finally falls out of character and asks the questions. We never laughed so hard, but finally when she could speak again, a bit hoarse, but that’s when she got serious. “It’s not a game what they’re doing to unsuspecting people. They’re playing with people’s lives.”

She also acknowledged that for her performance she should have won an Academy Award.

So just when we’re thinking all the fun and games are cancelled, we’re going stir crazy because it seems like all our entertainment has been taken away from us, there’s always a game we can play. And we don’t always need to have a stage just so someone can act. We don’t have to be ruled by fear but we do need to play within the rules because the people making those rules are making them in our best interests.

Let’s take it from Holly, when we get knocked off of one leg, there’s always three more!

Our three-legged dog!
A Muse 4 You: How do you find your grounding, even if you feel like you’re grounded, and still manage to have your fun anyway?

“Oh, Mother! That’s Part Of The Game”

Here’s Mom, I mean Mother, handling the ball with Southern style (notice her hair perfectly coiffed and hair sprayed into place).

Mom was born and bred a southern belle and she had it wrapped around her finger as evidenced by the one time she played basketball. (The picture that I don’t show has her primping before the game). She believed it was her responsibility to look good and speak with a proper southern accent when the opportunity arose.

As for us kids, she wanted us to call her Mother. Sort of like we called blush, rouge. Or how Mom called everybody “honey” or “sweetheart” or “darling”. These were standards, only, we didn’t like the Mother thing. Even after Mom asked us, “Why don’t you call me mother?” I remember curling up my nose and saying, “Ewe. You’re not a mother; you’re my mom.” Or maybe I didn’t say it so eloquently, but that was the gist of where I was coming from. There’ll be more about this later, trust me…

Meanwhile, this week I went to the Carolina’s both physically and mentally. We had a family wedding in South Carolina, which was good timing, as I had been stuck in North Carolina ever since last week’s blog post when I mentioned that I went to UNC-Chapel Hill. And since Mom is the quintessential southerner from Greensboro, what better way to keep Carolina alive than to talk about Mom.

“If God isn’t a Tarheel, why’s the sky Carolina blue?” We grew up hearing about how great Carolina was. I was allowed to pick any college “east of the Mississippi,” Mom said, “but when you go to Carolina you’re going to love it.”

Carolina’s my other half and it was a glorious place to be for four years. I thought I’d love it, both my parents went there. I thought I’d meet the guy I was going to marry there because that’s where my parents met. I had heard so many stories about it, it seemed to be a magical place. Only, I had to go to a frat party once. I towered over all the guys, except the athletes. I never thought of myself as tall before I went to UNC.

It’s not like I had a thing against height, but there was the added fact I was from the north and would throw on a baseball cap and run to my 8am class. if need be, sleep always won out over beauty. I was no southern belle (just think of mom primping for her game); I was a transplanted northerner like my Dad.

Mom knew way more than how to look good; she could work a room with her innate charm.

See what I mean? She’s a southern belle trapped in a little girl’s body.

She’d tell us stories about how she really could have had her pick with the boys, “but there was something about your father.” For me, there was never a time when she wasn’t with him. It’s like they grew up in their parallel universes just waiting until that fated day they were to meet at Carolina.

Everybody she spoke of had a first and last name, so I got to know them, too. She had her beach trips, bible study and her friends in the neighborhood and her cousins in Asheville that meant everything to her because she was an only child and hated going it alone. Even when we went to Italy last year, we’d leave her in a coffee bar because she couldn’t walk on the cobblestone and when we returned she had stories of all the people she talked to.

She wasn’t one to suffer from low self-esteem and sometimes I’d marvel at how she could entertain us and tell us just what we needed to hear at the time we needed to hear it. And her southern accent would come alive whenever she’d be pulled over by a cop or needed to remind someone that she was just a southern girl. Her sayings would come alive particularly when she went home or talked to her Mother, too, or she’d have a desire for black-eyed peas the way her Daddy always made them.

When I ran for student council in High School, she encouraged me to come up with a strong campaign the way she did when she ran for secretary. Did she have the magic touch or what?

See what I mean? Of course she won!

So when I found an article about Mom in her high school newspaper from September 18, 1959, it was so much fun to read, “DAR Chooses Childress for Best Citizen Award” and see why Mom was chosen for the award.

“1. Dependability which includes truthfulness, loyalty and punctuality.

2. Service, which includes vo-operation, courtesy and consideration of others.

3. Leadership, which includes personality, self-control and ability to assume responsibility.

4. Patriotism, which includes unselfish interest in family, school and nation.”

Mom was even better than the stories she told!

Mom was all of these things and more. No wonder she won the award. These strengths exemplify Mom. She was always involved in everything. She volunteered with so many organizations if I listed them she’d only say, “You forgot Wheels or Junior League, oh, and…” She was involved with Public Relations long before she got her PR agency and she was forever the 2nd Grade teacher of the gifted boys and girls that she adored. I was looking through her college yearbook and on the Alpha Delta Pi page there were two candid pictures of a few women getting dressed that could have been Mom so when I asked her she said, “That’s also me in the top photo getting dressed for a Hawaiian themed Rush Party! Remember I was Rush chairman.” But I’m jumping ahead, before she went to Carolina, she went to Sullins College for women.

At Sullins, she joined a group called The Cotton Pickers and she played the spoons. I loved to watch her get out the tablespoons from the kitchen drawer and wow us with her instrumental ability.

Here’s the album cover of Sullins College’s 1961-1962 Cotton Pickers with Mom on the far right. On the back cover her abilities are fleshed out:
SONDRA CHILDRESS of Greensboro, North Carolina will always be remembered for her educated fingers. With her fingers, Sondra brings forth the rippling sounds of the spoons with a jazzed-up xylophone effect. We not only appreciated Sondra’s contribution to the Pickers but also the cafeteria’s contribution to Sondra.

The Cotton Pickers played a set of instruments that made them look like “refugees from a hardware store.” The band consisted of “a washboard, a drum, a set of spoons, a pair of ‘clickers’, shakers, a tambourine, and a washtub with a broom attached–better known as a ‘gut-bucket’…and a number of ukeleles.”

Mom had a life beyond her stories before coming to Carolina her Junior Year. Back then women weren’t allowed to go to Carolina for four years unless they majored in nursing or journalism. But she came in with gusto and made the most of her two-year stint. She found Dad and that is where the story always took on a new life for me.

She’s been a staunch supporter of him ever since and she has applied herself to so many organizations and fundraisers, she never stopped giving of her personality, dedication, leadership, and charm.

But the best of all had to be when I was reading this article posted in The Sunday Bulletin on November 20, 1977. It was called “Topsy-Turvy World For This Sporting Wife”. Dad had just been named coach of the 76ers several weeks prior.

“It’s a typical afternoon at the Billy Cunningham residence, and havoc is breaking loose. Four-year-old Heather, having just fallen off the kitchen counter, is bawling her eyes out and rubbing a lump on her forehead. The family’s bumbling yellow Labrador puppy, sauntering through, has overturned a soda glass on the coffee table and is watching the liquid ooze into the carpet. Older daughter, Stephanie should be home from school but isn’t…And meanwhile, the telephone is ringing…and ringing…and ringing.”

Here’s Mom answering the phone. It always rang and we always had to “Get the phone!” We didn’t have answering machines back then so how else were you going to know who called? Plus, since her desk also served as the makeshift eating area come dinner, she could answer the phone while eating.

I’m glad the phone rang for that reporter because it always rang for us. No matter where we were or what we were doing, we had to jump up and answer it.

Another important responsibility was to make Dad a poster or a sign when he needed a pick-me-up. Mom always seemed to know when that was. Maybe it was the second-grade school teacher that would come out in her (which also came out around the holidays–no one decorated like Mom) but we loved this job more than any. It was always fun coming up with what to say next.

At the time of this interview, we had taped to the sliding glass door a crayoned sign that read, “We love you, Coach Cunningham.”

Mom was always loyal and protective of Dad, but she always cared just as much about us, too. I got teary-eyed to think my parents had asked me what I thought about Dad’s decision to start coaching.

If I ever find myself getting selfish and feeling sorry for myself, I’ll just have to remember what Stephanie told me…(when) I asked her what she thought of her daddy’s being coach since he might not be at home as much as he used to.”

I couldn’t imagine what I might have said when I was only eight years old…

“And she just looked up at me and said, ‘Oh Mother! That’s just part of the game.'”

And I had to laugh. Mom had worked her magic with that reporter and put her southern twist on my words. Kind of like the lemon Grandma would put in her homemade southern tea. If you recall, I never called her Mother.

It couldn’t have hurt me to call her Mother, especially since it meant so much to her, I now know how hard it was for me when the kids stopped calling me Mommy. In case you missed it, here was that post: https://stephanieortiz.com/2019/12/05/goodbye-mommyhood/

Only I probably didn’t explain it to her that love is not formal like that. We had too close of a relationship for her to be anything other than Mom.

So she didn’t get to be called Mother, but she got her second wish, I did go to Carolina. It wasn’t a bad compromise. In fact, we all won in the end.

And she got her family, the one that she always felt was too small when she was little. She has grandchildren now and all her nieces and their children. We were at my cousin’s wedding and someone yelled out, “We’re together and it’s not a funeral.” And what a glorious recognition that was. It was like finding a pocket filled with joy.

Mom taught me to find those pockets of joy. Be kind to everyone and gather a story or two from those you’ve met along the way. And she taught that no matter where you live, she’s lived in the north the majority of her life now, the cliche really is true: home is where the heart is.

And when your homesick, just put on Mom’s favorite song by James Taylor “Carolina in my Mind”. I’m listening to it today in honor of Mom. I want to be reminded of Carolina (and the greatest of southern belles) today of all days because today is Mom’s birthday.

James Taylor can take you anywhere you need to go.

And after James Taylor has spoken, I have one last gift for you. Know that I’m saying this only because I love you from the bottom of my heart, and I know how much it means to you. Ok, here it goes…Happy birthday dear Mother!

A Muse 4 You: Was there ever a time you had to make a compromise in the name of love?

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What Role Am I?

Will the real role/roll please stand up?

One thing I love about community theater is how it reflects our off stage lives. Whether on stage or off, we all have roles (or rolls depending on how you look at it) that we play and they always leave us wondering who am I?

Take on stage, just this Sunday, I was asked to be a pole. Someone has to simulate the corner of the boxing ring during the fight scene in Twelfth Night, the musical. I was told that we’d be holding pool noodles. How many poles does it take to make the corners of a ring? Well, four, naturally.

So I started thinking about how best to be a pole holding two pool noodles. I could put into practice last year’s bit of advice from an experienced cast member, “Wow them from the neck up”.

So from the neck up, I’ll be a pole that taunts the leads to fight. “What kind of man are you going to be?”

There are so many pole jokes to go around, “at least they didn’t want me to be a pole dancer” or “I’m a pole, but at least I still have my noodles.”

I didn’t say they had to be good jokes but I could go on if you want me to. We have a lot of empty time on our hands at rehearsals to hang out with our cast members and crack bad jokes.

And now that I’m halfway throughly life, I’ve had a lot of other roles. Sometimes I start to question, will the real role please stand up? But let’s back track and take this one role at a time.

Philadelphia Inquirer, May 27, 1973 (3-year-old Stephanie with Mom)

Daughter: Let’s face it, I was a daughter first. Here’s an incredible picture of Mom and me in that first role plucked straight from one of the newspapers buried in the basement. Mom spoke out quite a bit as she wanted people to know her story. It was hard being the wife of a man who loved basketball, while she loved the man behind the game. He’d be at the front door, bringing his duffel bag to the front door to leave for a road trip, and I’d hold onto his leg and cry. It must have broken Mom’s heart to have to see her daughter so upset. Meanwhile, she was publicly struggling to find out who she was. I was trying to figure it out, too. Only I was too young. I didn’t have the capacity to figure it all out, so I looked outside of myself for the answers. For me it translated like this…the teacher made me be a tree in our first grade play, therefore, that must be what I’m cut out to be in life: a tree. So I did what any kid would do, I waited until I got older so I could show that teacher that I could also be a pole.

I seem to like to sit on ledges–here I am with Alex back in, I don’t know, let’s say 2003

Married: I didn’t enter marriage gracefully. It was hard to take on the responsibility, when I much preferred being free and unencumbered. When Alex and I got engaged, I almost threw the engagement ring out the window of the cab. I was angry because Alex had “tracked me down”. I was hanging out after work with my friends at the local bar downstairs and I lost track of time. The bartender stood there holding an old-fashioned telephone in his hand, it wasn’t old fashioned at the time, and he asked, “Is anyone here by the name of Stephanie?” In all fairness, I was hours late to a date that Alex had pre-arranged. It was the most callous, insensitive thing that I ever did because I didn’t get the marriage thing. But over the years, we’ve learned together and we’re beautiful because of it.

Daughter-In-Law: I hear more horror stories of people hating their in-laws. In fact, once at a writing retreat I was prompted to write about my mother-in-law and my story was the only one that was so beautiful I ended up sharing it with my dear Mother-In-Law afterwards. I love my in-laws and am graced and blessed by their love.

Mama: This one didn’t come easy either. I was so scared of giving birth that I tried to hold my oldest in. The very daughter I fought to bring into the world, looked nothing like me. But then there was my second. I didn’t fight her, in fact, we welcomed her wholeheartedly, she was my mini-me, only we didn’t have a name for her. They wouldn’t let us leave the hospital calling her “baby girl Ortiz”. To this day my oldest has a complex because we didn’t have choices of what we would name her. She said her friends all have funny stories, like her sister, that they “might have been” called Sage or Kendall. I told my oldest to use her sisters possible names. Now I know why I was so scared to have kids, I didn’t want to let them go when their time comes to fly. It comes so quickly.

Writer: If you haven’t noticed the pattern here, I’ve been reticent to take on any new role. That’s where community theater helps. Whenever I try to look at myself as a writer and the doubt sets in, I remember last year I got on that stage without any experience at all. So here I am, showing up on my blog, just like I got on that stage, one week at a time.

I’ve played all these roles, and so many more that I haven’t included here, or this could go on way longer than you’re probably willing to read.

When a play is over the girls always handle the aftermath with such grace. I’m the one who can’t get it out of my head. I”m scared to let it go, yes, even if I’m just a pole.

Only, about that pole, just as quickly as I became one, well, I just as quickly lost it. Yes, they asked me to go back to ensemble and they gave the pole, I mean role, to someone else.

At least I can be the pole understudy and I can always joke how I am part pole, and my kids, well, they’re a quarter pole…

You’d think now that I’m older and wiser and I know who I am. Or do we ever really know who we are? We’re always growing, no matter what our age, no matter what role we play. We always look to the roles and the actors around us to glimpse who we really are.

And no matter how I look at it, I have become the person I am today because of these roles. I might not be able to shoot a basketball, but I look just like my Dad. I don’t have a southern accent and southern charm to boot (put Mom in a room and she will come out of there knowing at least three important facts about every person in there), but I can write a story or two. I’ve learned from the best.

I loved Laura Dern’s quote from the Oscars, not just because she played Mom in Little Women, but because of what she said, “Some say you never meet your heroes, I say, if you’re truly blessed you have them as your parents.”

I was equally as blessed. I had a head start in life having great parents to help me begin to answer the question, “who am I?”. I have had great teachers along the way in the form of Alex, my in-laws, my kids, oh, and my first grade teacher who made me be a tree.

I’m grateful for all these meaningful rolls. Yes, I mean rolls, literally, this time. It wasn’t a family meal until Mom accidentally burned them. So even if I have to be a burnt piece of bread, I’ve been a tree and I’ve been part pole so I can take it on.

Even with my writing, when I begin to wonder where it might lead me, I need just apply myself to the role at hand.

Since all the world’s a stage, let’s just take life one role at a time and see where it takes us.

A Muse 4 You: How do you see yourself through the roles that you play?

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Finding A Cow: My Golf Ball Game

The Cow Jumped Over the Club
The Cow Jumped Over the Club

In the beginning of the week, the weather was so gorgeous my golf game was in full swing again. And if you believe I’m actually talking about playing golf, you’d better keep reading.

Before I get to the back story, My game involves looking for graveyard golf balls. It’s my daily ritual to look (I don’t always find).

I was walking Holly along the golf course and was lost in thought about what I’d write about next when I stumbled upon a ball. And there my muse was printed on it (like a fortune cookie, only better) in the form of an insignia of a cow on top of a golf club. The seed to my next story.

So that’s what makes this post about cows. If your wondering how could I possibly do this, you really don’t understand the game very well just yet.

My first instinct when I see a cow that appears to be jumping is to go straight into nursery rhyme mode.

The Cow Jumped Over the Moon: It’s just gibberish, but it brings me back to my daughter’s birth. Our dear friends I’ve known since childhood, sent her a life-size baby cow. It was numbered, dated and named. Isn’t she adorable?

Our family “cowch” jumps over the golf club

At the time, I never looked up anything on the internet about the cow. We weren’t in the babit of doing that like we are today. And do I feel stupid now. Turns out these cows are fashioned off of real cows and they have quite a beautiful story.


Not to mention, I didn’t get the pun of her trademark name “COWCH”, not to be confused with couch. Who knew I had to find a cow golf ball to understand the precious cow we have in our own family?

But Alex’s Dad had a cow story of his own. In keeping with the nursery rhyme theme we have going here, I’ll call this story of how my in-laws met: Papito Jumped Over Bolivia. Papito had gotten a scholarship to study in Texas, which then led him to continue studying in France. That’s where he met Mamita. She thought he was a Texas rancher and that he raised cattle. (Boy was she mistaken when she took that boat-ride with her spouse and young son to move to Bolivia). But I think she was confused because he always wears this hat. Wherever we go, people think he’s a rancher from Texas.

Don’t let the hat fool you, my father-in-law is not from Texas, Bolivia

Those were the cow stories that I knew. There had to be a cow story that I didn’t know burried in one of those newspapers I had unearthed in the basement last week. It was a bit of a challenge to start going through them with this intent, but I never doubted that it couldn’t be done. If you have doubts, you must be the one hitting all those balls in the graveyard.

So I started with the papers Mom had saved in a manilla envelope from Dad’s rookie year with the 76ers when he was the sixth man, which happened to be the year before they won the World Championship. I wasn’t even born yet so it was fun to see where my parents were in that time capsule of 1966.

Anyone used to love Back to the Future, too? I don’t even need the time traveling car to go back in time. I just need to go in the basement.

Where Alex’s Dad had a fictional connection to cattle, turns out my Dad had a real tie to it as he was involved in, drum roll please, a cattle-breeding operation…but it wasn’t his only business venture.

The story of the cow led me to want to know, more importantly, why Dad was a businessman while he was playing professional ball? Was it because of Grandpa’s influence? He wanted Dad to get a real job at IBM after college and play basketball on the side.

Dad explained, “Professional basketball back in those days was an extension of your college career. You always had a job in the summer. Guys worked for banks to generate more money for their family. They’d retire at 28 years old because they’d have families and realize this wasn’t going to work.”

Incidentally, I had stumbled upon one of Wilt Chamberlain’s side jobs because Mom had saved a newspaper clipping of Wilt (7’1″) trying to get into a Volkswagen (13’4″ long). It doesn’t relate to my cow story, so just think of it as a commercial break.

Keep in mind, this wasn’t exactly a cash cow in today’s world, but Wilt was getting paid far, far better than Dad, who was also in on Wilt’s commercial. Dad was just the side of potatoes getting paid $1,000 to show that someone his size (6’6″) could get in the car. Check it out, it’s so cute.

King Rose Archives posted the commercial on YouTube.

Though it moved us further away from our cow discussion, Dad had fun memories of his sister teaching him how to get from first to third gear so he could drive ten feet for the commercial. He wasn’t going to give up his $1,000.

The commercial took forever, and while they were standing around waiting, Dad said Wilt would go to the back of the VW where the engine was, and just for kicks, he’d pick it up and move the tires. That could have been a whole other commercial.

So after that commercial break, and while we’re still on the topic of Wilt, there’s my final cow story, which we can call Wilt Jumped Over the Cow. I found the reference to Wilt’s post game ritual of drinking a quart of milk in a March 9, 1966 newspaper clipping. So I asked Dad if this was true. You know how the papers can be.

Dad said, “Oh yes. He’d also eat an apple pie and a quart of milk or a quart of orange juice at half time while the rest of us would drink a little water.” It was remarkable how he fueled himself, but Dad explained, “Gatorade wasn’t available then.”

So that’s how I came to write a post about a cow. Of course, the post doesn’t feel like it can end here, not without an explanation of the golf ball game. So if you want to stick with me, I’ll steer away from our muse on cows to explain.

It started so simply back in the summer. I found my first ball outside the golf course fence. I didn’t know then that it would change my dog-walking days from that point on. I dreamed of finding balls all summer long and making a golf ball-lined fence.

Back to the first ball I found, I put it on the top of the fence. And the reality quickly set in that my game would have to be different. The ball dissappeared. In fact, every ball I found and put up on a fence post, it didn’t matter where it was, it would be gone.

Then it became: how dare they mess with my game? I even thought of supergluing the balls to the fence post, but I had to keep this on the public side of the fence, where I’m allowed to tresspass.

The game progressed, and I’d hide the balls. I’d lose those balls too.

By September, I decided to write funny sayings on the balls, like “Was Lost But Now I’m Found” or I’d honor special dates that coincided with finding a ball like “50” (yes, that was me turning 50). But the elements were against me, or at least, there was the weather that would wear my words away (Sharpie blue pens are not weatherproof).

So I bought Sharpie Extreme’s. I was ready for the balls to be found and the golfers to have a good laugh, only it was the fall. Even if I was finding balls, no one else was looking for them.

By the time winter had set in, I was afraid to leave the balls out so I hoarded all the golf balls in my house like a squirrel with her nuts.

Even still, my family got in on the game and they find balls on their walks, too. We might not find a ball a week, but when we have a few spring days thrown into the wintry mix, we can find a ball or two. Winter golfers don’t look for their balls, for some reason.

Last week Alex found a ball that said “practice”. It wasn’t even along the golf course, but that’s when I realized that it had to be Kobe’s ball. Thanks to Kobe, every week’s muse will get a ball.

Thanks to Alex finding this “PRACTICE” ball, one found ball a week will be dedicated to the week’s blog post muse.

Next time the ball jumps over the fence and lands in the graveyard, don’t dismay and worry about the state of your golf game. Now that my game is in full swing, I’ll resurrect your ball with a funny little pun, a saying to let you know it’s an important event for me or my family or maybe the ball will be the title from one of my blog posts.

And even if you don’t find one of my balls and all you get is a plain white one with a number and the golf ball brand, just remember, there’s a story behind every ball, even if it’s just about the golfer who lost it. If you’re lucky enough to find a ball, see where the story leads you.

A Muse 4 You: Suppose you found this ball, what meaning would it have for you?

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Touched By An Angel: What Small Change Can Do

It’s only $4, or is it?

I asked my family if this New Year’s Day they’d be up for a challenge: to give a dollar to someone we don’t know.

We had planned to go to the city so each of us could give our dollar maybe to someone who was homeless. (It seemed to make the most sense). But my youngest had a fever and Alex was feeling like he was coming down with something so that wasn’t possible.

It was getting late and even though the sun had gone down on New Year’s Day, our challenge seemed to be turning into, well, a challenge.

Alex agreed to drive and I would give our combined $4 to whoever was behind the register at the convenience store down the street.

We were a little nervous—this isn’t typical for us. We wondered what would he think? Would he be confused by our gesture and question why so little?” Maybe we should be giving more, but that’s all we had on us, so it would have to do.

But then I remembered, “Just think about how excited you are when you find even a quarter. I think he’ll be happy.”

The closer we got to the store, I decided I’d go in alone so we didn’t overwhelm the person and I’d definitely give it to the worker behind the counter. There are so many stories about the person buying coffee, etc. for the guy in line. And those are beautiful gestures, too, and are just as special. But what about the guy who has to work there?

This was our way to change it up, well, $4 up.

So I prayed that the person working there would be the right person. The person that $4 would mean something to…For some reason that mattered to me.

But there was still the biggest question, what would I say? I pushed that thought away when I saw my stranger through the doors: the man behind the counter. He was checking out the only customer in the store. So I let them finish up their transaction and then entered.

The worker kindly said to the customer, “Happy New Year.” I knew he was the one.

The doors jingled and the customer left calling to mind that scene in the movie, It’s A Wonderful Life. Remember that famous quote? “Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.” Trust me, no angel was getting any wings here, but I grinned at the thought anyway.

He turned to me and asked, “What can I do for you?” He smiled back, it was faint, maybe it had been a long day, but he didn’t show it. He gave his full attention to me and what I might need.

I handed him the money and he took it and waited patiently for my answer. Cigarettes? Isn’t that what he keeps behind the counter? I had to explain, and quickly, as this was rather unusual. I said, “This is for you.“ And I found the words to say, his words, in fact, “Happy New Year!”

He took it, but he kept his hand outstretched, holding the money gingerly so I could change my mind and take it back. Funny that play on words change my mind. Or clearly this was a prank. But I didn’t move. I asked for nothing.

I nodded my head yes and said, “It’s for you.”

He looked at me so deeply he could have even had tears in his eyes, but he didn’t.

He asked, “But why?”

I said, “Just because.” And the pause we shared between us was the gift I would carry away with me. I smiled and then I said, “Happy New Year!”

And he looked at me with his eyes so deep with love or gratitude or awe or disbelief or maybe all of the above. The power in his eyes was so great you would have thought an angel had just come into the room. But that angel already was with us, remember the bells?

He never even looked to see how much money it was. In fact, it wasn’t even money anymore. In his eyes, and hopefully reflected in my own, was the deeper knowledge that what we had exchanged was far greater.

I left and got back in the car. It felt like a get-away car, Alex and I both felt so flustered. Alex was awkwardly trying to get out in the wrong direction and then righted himself and started backing up all while the man stood at the door and stared after us. I waved a couple of times but he didn’t wave back. He just looked.

Alex finally righted the car and was getting ready to drive on so he rolled down the window as the man opened the store door and we heard the bells jingle. Alex was a bit touched too and he accidentally yelled out “Merry Christmas” and then he corrected himself and said “I mean Happy New Year!”

And then the man found his voice again and said, “Happy New Year.”

But there was a quiet way about him. There was that look on his face the way your parents would look at you when they had just waved you goodbye and you were leaving. It was a moment so sacred that words don’t describe it. Maybe we all had been truly touched by that angel.

When we got home, my oldest asked me to write it down (she’s always badgering me to write down my stories while they’re still fresh). She wanted me to make it my next blog post, but I told her I wouldn’t be able to, “It was too sacred of a moment”.

So she said, “Then at least write it down before you forget.”

So I wrote it down, and then, as only my daughter knows best, once written, how could I not share? There’s no way I can break the sacredness that had transpired that night. It happened, I would only be so lucky to be able to find the words to explain it.

The story started off and it was small change for me too. But when those bells jingled, the story took on a whole new dimension. We were all touched by that angel.

A Muse 4 You: Did you ever have that moment where small change multiplied to make such a big difference in the life of a stranger?

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