Life’s stories

Posted on Posted in Teaching Moments

Recently, during a conversation with a friend about my blog and my writing the friend asked me to imagine what life’s stories will look like twenty years from now. At first, I had to consider why the question was asked and if my friend was actually challenging the relevancy of my thoughts and writings. Hmmm, I thought. Being the friend that I am, I had to ask, “What do you mean by that question? What made you ask that question?” My friend with all sincerity said that it was just a thought about the future and the telling of stories of a time period.

I never got the opportunity to answer the question, but I did give it thought. My thoughts about the question later in the day were the same as my immediate thoughts: The stories twenty years from now will look a lot like those we tell now and those our families told us for years. People tend to tell stories about things and situations that invoke emotion and suspense. The stories of old, like the present day stories, have given rise to fear, to love, to passion, to anger, to happiness, to sadness, to anxiousness, and grief. The stories propel us to heights of triumph and cause us to plummet into the depths of valleys. Suspense has not always meant the nail bitter from a movie scene in which you sit hoping and wishing that the potential victim would escape the clinches of the scary assailant. It has also meant cheering on the underdog team as they dig deep and exhaust all they have mentally, physically, and emotionally to score the winning goal or touchdown or basket to champion a moment. These emotions, failures, and triumphs are present in the story lines whether the theme is horror, science fiction, drama, comedy, or a good old romantic saga.

My daddy used to invite his friends to come over and sit with him “to tell some lies.” His request was always accompanied by a hearty chuckle. We all knew that he and his friends would be telling stories of their days of youth when they played sports or they would be talking about the days when my dad coached basketball or track.

My father told me stories about the days when he played baseball in college and had an invitation to try out for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but didn’t have the money to travel to the camp. As the stories have been told, my father was a really good baseball player in his younger years and in his college days. I have heard from family friends that my dad often hit home runs over the wall that used to surround the baseball field at Alabama State University. I only wish that someone could remember my father’s jersey number. My father’s inability to travel to try out for the professional baseball team inspired him to use athletics to teach other young people valuable life lessons and to support young people in their efforts to achieve any goals they set for themselves.

My father was a high school basketball and track coach before schools were integrated in Alabama. My father would tell some real tales about the young men and women he coached. There are a few stories that stand out because they seemed to be really tall tales or because I still smile and chuckle when I think about them. I wish that I had been old enough to witness the competitions. My father loved to tell the story about the basketball team he coached in Bibb County that could have won the whole thing. He talked about how he knew the strengths and weaknesses of each of his players and how he used those things to help his team be successful. He said that he would teach them “to play a good clean game of dirty ball.” Haha. In other words, his team knew all of the rules and pushed the rules to the limits like some very successful teams in our current sports era. In addition, my father would laugh about how he had one kid on the team who would not receive a great deal of playing time so my dad would use that player strategically to create frustrating situations for the best players on the other team and a foul on this special player would not put my dad’s team at risk of losing a valued ball handler or scorer. Daddy would tell us about how he defended that player’s actions with the officials when they charged the player with a foul by arguing for only one shot because “ref, he only hit him once.” Haha. My dad was funny! The year that this team was primed for the championship my father was asked to become the principal of North Highland High School in Prattville, Alabama. He took the job and coached the basketball and track teams. After my dad’s death, one of his students told a story about how they played on an outdoor dirt court and my father built walls around the court because the students had never seen an indoor basketball court. My mother added that the spectators would stand outside in their coats watching the basketball games. (Well, I know I said I wish I could have seen those games, but honestly I would have passed on that stand outside in the cold part to watch a basketball game.) Eventually, after schools were integrated, that high school became a lower school and the gym that my father lobbied for all those years was erected. It now bears his name and I wish he could be here to tell the ending to this story.

These stories that occurred decades ago in the south tell of a man who grew up poor and became the first person in his family to attend college. His is a story of a man who used his gifts and talents to dream outside of his neighborhood and go on to play baseball in college, attain a bachelors degree , and earn a master’s degree. Then, he taught and coached in the communities that raised him and inspired hundreds of young people to dream and live outside of the constraints of their environments. My father’s story is one of challenge, triumph, and paying forward of his wisdom and gifts. His story and the stories he told warmed the hearts of those who knew him. It is really cool to me that his stories and those told by others through whatever medium chosen have the ability to invoke emotions and inspire us to dream, achieve, and uplift others.

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