Give Us a Call When You Get to Town

This is a letter to the editor of the Kansas City Star written by a San Francisco Giants fan. So glad he came to KC and I wish he had come to see Game 7 rather than 6, but it sounds like he still really thoroughly enjoyed his time out at the K!

Royals treatment

I am a San Franciscan and a Giants fan who attended game six of the World Series in Kansas City.

Let me just say that never in my life have I enjoyed being so terribly outnumbered and, by evening’s end, absolutely clubbed into submission.

From the moment I hit the parking lot at Kauffman Stadium in my Giants gear, folks made a point to walk over, introduce themselves, welcome us to Kansas City and wish us good luck. People offered to buy us beer and brats.

Most mind-bending was the woman who apologized for the lopsided score.

My wife and our friends spent the better part of our flight home marveling at the generosity and warmth of the Royals fans and wondering whether we’d dropped into a parallel universe.

At some point, I recall announcing to my wife that I was prepared to move to Kansas City as soon as possible.

They refer to your part of the country as “flyover states.” Folks should make a point to actually drop in to Kansas City for a heaping helping of an America most people only dream about.

John Pritzker

San Francisco

KC Star

In this same issue, I read the obituary of the dad of a grade school chum of mine. It mentions that he was a successful pharmaceutical salesman who turned down many opportunities for career advancement because he didn’t want to take his family away from Kansas City.  My own late father made similar decisions during his lifetime. I guess the secret is out…now you know why they and the rest of us chose to stay here.

Oh, about the title of this piece: I heard my dad say that about a million times in phone conversations with far flung family, friends, and customers. And trust me, he meant every word. ; )


Ageless and Timeless: Baseball’s Most Ardent but Lesser Known Fans

Now that the Royals are headed to the World Series, the rest of my posts this month will likely be devoted to baseball, so bear with me.

My grandmother, Louella

My grandmother, Louella

This post features a quintessential ardent baseball fan, my paternal grandmother who passed away 8 years ago at the age of 97. Meet Louella. Her life, by any standard, was fraught with difficulties and challenges, though she would never have characterized them that way. Born and raised on a farm in northeast Kansas, she was the eldest daughter of parents of Swiss French heritage.

She was a child when the flu pandemic of 1917 struck her tiny corner of Kansas. That fall, her mother begged her father not to travel to attend the annual livestock show in Kansas City, Missouri, known as the American Royal, for fear he could come in contact with the disease. Her father, however, believed he had to attend in the interest of his family and livelihood, and unfortunately fell ill shortly after he returned home. Her mother nursed her father and all 4 of their children through horrific bouts of the disease before she finally succumbed to the influenza herself and died.

My grandmother once described to me the intense and frantic fear attached to this devastating pandemic and explained that families in their community had to mark their homes to signal to others that they had the flu. Priests would not give last rites to victims because they feared contracting the illness.

In her late teens, she moved to Kansas City with her father and attended secretarial school. She worked as a secretary, married my grandfather, and bore two children, both boys. My father, the oldest, was born in 1929, the year the stock market crashed. Her world was again upended, this time by the Great Depression, during which my grandfather struggled to find work and began seeking solace in alcohol. She worked at a large department store downtown to help make ends meet, leaving my dad and his brother in the care of others before she rode the streetcar to work.

They briefly moved to Michigan, believing that jobs were available in the auto industry, only to be profoundly disappointed to learn that no such work existed. Upon their return to Kansas City, they were forced to live, uncomfortably, with my grandfather’s relatives until they could get back on their feet.

During World War II, she obtained employment in a factory, making radio crystals and lifelong female friends. Like many women, she lost her factory job when the war ended. Soon she found work as a secretary at a steel company where she worked until she retired.

My grandfather’s alcoholism unquestionably complicated her life and though she loved him, she confessed to having felt some measure of relief when he died in middle age. He was a goodhearted person, but his unpredictable behavior propelled by liquor disrupted their lives and finances with regularity and eventually sabotaged his ability to secure steady work. After he died, she began to create a new life for herself, including a 30-year stint as a volunteer at the veterans hospital and her church and a long membership in the Ladies Auxiliary of a local American Legion.

Because my dad checked in on her daily, she was able to live independently until the last year of her life. She walked everywhere when she was still driving and even more so when she no longer could drive. After she sold her bungalow near the baseball stadium, everyone thought she was crazy for selecting an apartment on the second floor which required her to walk up and down a full flight of stairs daily. Of course, I now realize that probably contributed significantly to her good health in the final decade of her life.

Louella and her great grandaughter Ellie

Louella and her great grandaughter Ellie

She taught my children how to make cupcakes from scratch and delighted in helping take care of them on their days off school when my husband and I worked. She would get mad if we didn’t leave her a basket of clothes to fold so she would “have something to do” when the kids were napping. We’d come home to find the clothes folded with military precision and dinner preparations made.

She was an incredible seamstress who wasted not a single thread and could whip yards of cloth into apparel or home decor. She was infinitely resourceful, a walking model of thrift and sustainability; she never met a bread wrapper or piece of foil she could part with easily. She gave only bear hugs and had a handshake that could pull grown men to the ground. Her cheerful countenance masked a steely resolve and powerful work ethic borne of what most would consider a life of hardships.

Every year for Christmas, she gave us a beautiful gold Christmas ornament commemorating the year with a scene of the Plaza, a unique area of the city, and always purchased from the department store where she had worked when she was a young mother barely scraping by. When we bought our house, she gave us money from a US Savings bond she had held in my name since I was born.

She didn’t spend much money on sports merchandise and she didn’t buy season tickets or even attend a lot of baseball games. I’m confident she did not own a Royals T-shirt. But she listened to baseball religiously on the public radio and watched it on television, taking in every single Royals game every season for every decade this team existed. She was “tickled” that the Royals beat the Cardinals in their last World Series appearance.

Baseball provided her a joy no other sport could. When her vision failed, she could follow every play on the radio and not miss a thing. It was a game that had been around her whole life, and one that had not morphed into grand spectacle or reckless showboating. It was a team sport where everyone had a part to play, a contribution to make, and nothing, but nothing, in any game could ever be deemed insignificant.

And in that vein, every play of every game offered hope. No matter how far down you were in a game, you could pull out a win. No matter how many games you were down in a series, you could turn it around. No matter how many losses you sustained in a season, you could stage a triumphant comeback at the end. No matter how many years you missed the playoffs, there would always be another season next year and the next. Hope springs eternal in baseball in a way it simply cannot in other sports. In some cases, hope can last 29 years or more.

So you can imagine her surprise when my brother Mark, gift-giver extraordinaire, gave her the gift of a lifetime—enjoying a baseball game at Kauffman Stadium with her family for her 92nd birthday in mid-September. Mark bought tickets for the “Crown” seats right behind home plate and arranged for lunch in the club restaurant before the game.

But history would intervene when the unthinkable occurred on September 11th that year, 2001. The game on her birthday a few days later was cancelled as flights were banned and and all sporting events at stadiums, including that entire week of the baseball season, were postponed indefinitely.

I don’t really know how she ever came to sort out the horror of 9-11, but I do know what happened on a beautiful sunny Thursday afternoon that October. My son left his 5th grade class early to join “Gram” and his Uncle Mark and his grandfather and his dad at the stadium to watch the rescheduled birthday present, which now turned out to be the Royals final home game of the season.

At the end of the game, the players threw balls and bats and everything they had in the dugout up to the grateful kids in the stands before all were let loose to come down on the field for a final runaround. Mark had secured special permission to wait until the kids cleared the field so he and my dad could walk my grandmother by herself around the bases. And walk those bases she did!

Here are scenes from that momentous day:

My dad and my grandmother discussing a play at the Royals game while my brother mentally crunches the stats.

My dad and my grandmother discussing a play at the Royals game while my brother Mark mentally crunches the stats.

7th inning stretch

7th inning stretch

The wonderful surprise within the game: her 92nd birthday acknowledged on the big scoreboard!

The wonderful surprise within the game: her 92nd birthday acknowledged on the big scoreboard!

Those who took her out to the ballgame.

My grandmother with those who took her out to the ballgame.

4 generations take the field.

4 generations take the field and stand tall on home plate.

I suspect there are many baseball fans just like my grandmother, who live solid and respectable lives, slaying every mighty dragon that comes before them and never thinking twice about it. They are not the least bit bitter about the hand that life has dealt them nor do they ever complain. They are the unsung heroes for whom baseball— with its quaint organ music, ballpark hot dogs, 7th inning stretches, simple cheers and clap-clap-claps, against-all-odds playing, and, most importantly, its flagrant permission to hope—became the most truly pleasurable and meaningful pastime for a lifetime.

“Let’s go Royals!”

So who is the lesser known baseball fan in your life?

I Partied Like It Was 1985…in 1985


By now you surely know of the Royals triumphant entry into their first playoff in 29 years, the American League Division Series, via the “wildcard” route. The city is experiencing a sports euphoria that has eluded it for 3 decades.

So I go to purchase this shirt at the local sports gear store and the young clerk tells me it’s not returnable. I look him in the eye and tell him it’s unlikely that I am going to bring this shirt back since I already partied like it’s 1985…in 1985. He surveyed me with that look one gets when the cognitive dissonance is simply too vast to be fully comprehended. I can live with that.

Go Royals!

Puppy Love

Sure, you can take my pic.

Sure, you can take my pic.

Wonder what’s been keeping me away from blogging and up at night? Introducing…Phoebe, Brittany Spaniel extraordinaire. She is as cute as a bug’s ear and sharp as a tack. After our beloved Duncan passed away last year, I said that I had one more puppy in me but we needed to wait til the warm summer months. That was a genius move on my part given that we had 3 blizzards this winter, each delivering over a foot of snow.

Now, the warm summer months are currently unseasonably cool, for which I am eternally grateful since I spend A LOT of time outside. However, as it turns out, I didn’t have one more puppy in me.  Um, I grossly miscalculated my actual-energy -to-expended-effort ratio. Oops. I discovered that when we got Duncan as a pup 9 years ago I was apparently 20 years younger than I am now. You do the math. Fortunately, I have two amazing kids who have taken on the task of raising her. Whew!

I apologize in advance if this space turns into a dog blog. She’s pretty charismatic already at the tender age of 8 weeks. We are all completely and utterly under her spell.

Seriously, just try not to wither under the spell of my puppy-dog eyes.

Seriously, just try not to wither under the spell of my puppy-dog eyes.

Happy 4th of July-Have a Blast! (repost)

Forgive my recent posting hiatus and enjoy this repost of a signature piece. ; )


The 4th of July is a favorite holiday of mine, perhaps because it was always such delicious fun when I was a kid.   We’d spend the afternoon swimming at the Jewish Community Center with all of the other Irish Catholics (See the previous post A Catholic Childhood at the Jewish Community Center) and then bound for home to ride bikes and play until the giant picnic dinner was served.

Grilled hamburgers and hot dogs were standard fare at these gatherings with watermelon the sweet treat for dessert.  My mom whipped up her famous potato salad, which my friends have always begged her to make and which I didn’t have the good sense to cultivate an appetite for until I was an adult.  Brownies topped with powdered sugar, cole slaw, deviled eggs, popsicles, and all the soda pop you could drink rounded out the special day’s unusually kid-friendly menu.

Fireworks were illegal in the city where I grew up, but that didn’t stop my dad and his best friend from putting on a small but glorious display for their young families at the moment dusk turned to dark.  We would line up our chairs along the railing of the marble patio my father had built and well away from the action at the back end of the yard.

My dad was an explosives expert by trade, so, of course, he delighted in entertaining us with his own little show of Roman candles.   We wrote our names in the night air with  sparklers under the close supervision of the dads.  We lit tiny black squares that ballooned into “snakes”  on the driveway where they’d leave unsightly smudges for months once their remnant ashes blew away.  No one got burned or poked their eyes out.

When we moved into our house in Edgevale, I was 4 years of age; my parents stayed in this home for 30 years, long enough to see their four children grow up and move into lives of their own.  As they aged, they enjoyed another round of life in this hood with the set of neighbors who moved in after my siblings and I had left.

The revels of this group included an annual day-long 4th of July block party which actually was set in motion by the original set of long-time neighbors when I was in junior high.  After I married, my husband and I would attend as would many other families who had once lived on the block.  This block had a healthy alumni contingent who often found their way back for the Halloween and Christmas parties as well as the all-day 4th of July celebration.

We have a photo of my son as a one-month-old tucked in the lap of an older child in the annual group shot of the kids and another snapshot from when he was 3 or 4, sporting blue twill Osh Kosh overall shorts and a red, white, and blue striped T-shirt as he took a break from running with the pack of older kids long enough to munch a hot dog.

Other photos show tables packed with dishes of food, grills in the street billowing smoke, adults and kids laughingly engaged in silly contests, kids riding decorated bikes and running through sprinklers, and smiling adults with a plate in one hand and a malt beverage in the other. A firetruck would invariably swing by early on before its riders were pressed into service on their busiest night of they year.

The summer after my daughter was born, we took her over to acquaint her with the homeland, but decided that our  son was a bit too intrigued by the bottle rocket war the adult males waged in one yard.  Good fences may make good neighbors, but bad handling of explosive devices does not.

My husband’s recollection of the end of that era of our 4th of July celebrations?  “Duck and cover.”   Funny how your perspective on revelry shifts just a bit when you become a parent.  The next year we decided to stick closer to our home and cultivate some traditions of our own.

So what have these traditions been?  Well, of course, they evolved over the years as the children grew, but one constant for us is the tiny parade sponsored by our small city.  With the holiday falling on a Sunday and the economy still precarious, some festivities have been moved or altered or canceled.

The parade lives on, though it was held yesterday instead of today to avoid conflicting with church services.  We met up with some good friends and enjoyed the coolish breeze and sunshine as we were pelted with candy and political pamphlets in this an election year.

Here’s an excerpt from a previous post,  part of the Pool Chronicles series (The Pool Chronicles: Past as Prologue-Culture), which recounts the parade in detail and how we have typically celebrated the Fourth here at Flat Rock Creek:

Citizens turn out in droves for the small but satisfying Fourth of July parade every year and the attendant events throughout that week: an early morning run, a midnight bike race, a street dance, and, until it was eliminated last year due to economic woes, a mammoth fireworks display in the huge county park it shares with another mid-sized city.

The parade is held in Old Town, right next to the railroad tracks which bustle 24/7 with freight trains transporting coal and sundry other cargo. Patience is a virtue cultivated early in one’s residency here as motorists’ routes are regularly interrupted by the passing of trains whose horns punctuate the day, synchronizing the city’s businesses and piercing the still of night like a coyote howl.

We’ve watched the parade from the back of our minivan to keep from getting soaked by a thunder storm and watched it from lawn chairs we drug across the railroad tracks in the oppressive humidity that defines mid-summer here. A local group of Shriners, a mainstay of the parade, charms the children by racing tiny go-carts in circle 8s and tooting horns on their miniature Model Ts. Some of them prance good naturedly in goofy costumes to entertain the crowd accompanied by tunes produced by their kazoo-playing comrades.

Other music is provided by a horn band comprised of random area high school students trumpeting their only tune,  “Louie, Louie,” throughout the parade route.

The city’s swim team is heralded like local heroes. Cub Scouts packs and Girl Scout troops pedal their meticulously decorated bikes as their leaders walk along and toss candy to kids. City officials wave to the crowd from the back of slow-moving convertibles.

Young girls from dance academies turn flips down the asphalt and the costumed players from a local Renaissance Festival engage spectators with their theatrical antics and hardy shouts of “Huzzah!” Local businesses advertise services through festive floats. Even a pristine garbage truck is part of the route, a nod to a local waste management company.

The only unpleasantness is the periodic invasion every couple of years of politicians seeking to solicit votes and shore up name recognition. But even that annoyance is so quintessentially American that it’s hard to be offended. Residents come from all over the city to watch and everyone gets a good seat curbside. After the parade ends, people head to their respective neighborhood pools to spend the day swimming and splashing and sunning.

We’ve been watching the city’s Fourth of July fireworks show since it was held on the easement along the railroad tracks in the 1980s. In the first years we lived in our house, we could actually view it from our driveway. But once it shifted to the large county park and shared costs with a neighboring city, my husband initiated a new family tradition.

We’d venture out in a canoe to the middle of the lake in the big county park at dusk and watch the brilliant display of fireworks ignite the sky, casting its massive reflection on the black still canvas of water. The lake effect, in this case, was the illusion that the trailing embers falling from the spray of fireworks were showering the water as each resonant boom echoed off the bluff on the other side of the lake. Two shows for the price of one and both free.

In recent years, I noticed an uptick of families celebrating with picnics at the shelters surrounding the lake. Typically, we’ve gotten together with family friends for grilled hamburgers and hotdogs at someone’s home to celebrate after relaxing at the pool all afternoon. It has never occurred to me to go to a park on that day except to see fireworks. But it has occurred to a fair number of recent immigrants to the United States.

So I’ve been privy to a most remarkable scene: the gathering of immigrants and native-born Americans—who would know which was which on the edge of the lake as they cluster around the dock and boat easement to get a good view of the night sky?

Right here, smack in the middle of the heartland, this: people of all ages and origins, Asian, Indian, Hispanic, Slavic, African American, European, and those of other ethnic backgrounds, all gathered in one place to celebrate the birth of these United States, a wondrous cacophony conjured by the sounds of different languages and dialects rising into the evening air as people descend the hill to reach the dock at dusk to watch fireworks.

Here’s hoping you find your way to a delightful and safe Fourth of July this year!

Blizzard of Oz-Round Deux

Heavy, wet snow clings to trees, causing power outages all around. Not a fun way to spend a blizzard,

UPDATE: Heavy, wet snow clings to trees, causing power outages all around. Not a fun way to spend a blizzard,

You know, you really haven’t lived until you have been witness to the pre-blizzard shopping habits of Midwesterners. Since this current blizzard gave even more advance notice than the one last week, people had all weekend to contemplate the couple of days they are going to spend sheltering in place when it drops another foot or so of snow down on the bone-dry streets.

Another foot of snow beginning to fall. Note the bird in the dogwood tree. Bird block party going on at the feeders all week. Downy woodpeckers, cardinals, black cat chickadees, tufted tit mice, phoebes, bluejays, flickers, robins, mourning name it, it was chowing down on suet and seed.

Another foot of snow begins to fall. Note bird in dogwood tree. Bird block party going on at the feeders all week: downy woodpeckers, cardinals, black cat chickadees, tufted tit mice, phoebes, bluejays, flickers, robins, mourning doves…you name it, it was chowing down on suet & seed.

I ventured out to Costco late yesterday morning, a Sunday, only to find it a veritable mob scene. Normally, it’s pretty quiet at that moment during the weekend since most people would be at church, possibly praying for an alternate weather pattern.

On this day, however, the parking lot was packed with more than a few cars parked cattywampus–yeah, you heard me right—abutting giant snow mountains deposited by snowplows about its perimeter.

The critical driving issue in most lots is the blindspot created by these snowpiles, which conceal the frantic shoppers lurching from behind them and make competition-level space-spotting in the narrow plowed paths fairly treacherous.

So, when I surveyed the Costco lot, I knew the local media had whipped everyone into a frenzy with their European Computer Models and snowfall calculations in the double digits and shrieks of keywords, like “Bread!”, “Milk!”, “Eggs!”.  Then when the national press descended to scoop existing snow with their mittened hands on camera before the first new flake had fallen, well, that’s never a good sign.

Throughout the rest of that day and into today, stores were packed with panicked shoppers and carts careening down aisles at Daytona speeds. Predictably, shelves were bereft of bread and freezers devoid of milk and eggs.  Hardware stores reported near rumble conditions among the men circling the few remaining snowblowers.

We’ve taken all precautions: snow implements are cleaned and at the ready for use during the post-blizzard dig-out. Vast quantities of bread, milk, and eggs are stored and the pantry is bulging with all manner of food for any potential blizzard condition with or without power.

I’m guessing no one will need to grocery shop again for at least another month.

Snow falling again after we just moved 1 foot of it off the upper deck!

Snow falling again after we just moved 1 foot of it off the upper deck: argh.

Shoveling ahead...when the snow stops. We'll clear this first, then rake snow from the roof. That will dump a couple of feet here and then we'll shovel it off the deck again.

Shoveling ahead…when the snow stops. We’ll clear this first, then rake snow from the roof. That will dump several feet and then we’ll shovel it off the deck again.

Blizzard of Oz Redux

Flat Rock Creek snowfall

Today brings a well-publicized winter storm, already living up to its hype. This serene view from Flat Rock Creek belies the vehicular chaos reigning on area highways, many of which are now closed down and littered with abandoned cars. Schools, malls, bus routes, and even the airports have closed as the snowfall per hour ramps up.

This has been named Winter Storm “Q” by the Weather Channel because they couldn’t think of an actual name beginning with the letter “Q.” I suggest they root around the archives of early Sesame Street episodes during the next break between storms.

I guess I’m OK with a storm that sounds like the name of a James Bond villain. I am not so enamored of one inspired by the name of the transit line a national weather celebrity back east took to get to work.

Thanks anyway, Weather Channel. I am going to stick with a moniker that resonates in these parts and recycle the one we used two years ago, the last time this kind of storm dropped more than a foot of snow and brought the entire region to a halt: Blizzard of Oz.

It fits and offers just a bit more metaphoric bang for the buck.

Stay safe and warm throughout this storm, my fellow Midwesterners!

(See my daughter wield a mean snow rake below. Oh, yes, there are such things and they really work by pulling snow off your roof to prevent dreaded ice dams.)

Snow Rake 2013