Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Conversations with Dad, Muhammad Ali, and the Dangers of Museum Batting Cages

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (ZP) -- Saturday, I rolled into Louisville for a weekend visit with my parents.

One of the perks of having a nationally-recognized expert for a mom is the fact that her consulting takes her all over the country on somebody else's dime.

When those gigs bring her within a few hours' drive of the ol' ZenFo Pro, Dad flies out and we turn it into a family gathering. This doesn't happen too terribly often, so I take every opportunity I can to hang out with the folks. I was such a wicked hoodlum of a son as a teenager, so I figure it's the least I can do.

Needless to say, Dad and I have a lot of time to kill while Mom did what she does best.

In the dead of night for two consecutive evenings, we sat in the hotel bar until well past midnight, swapping stories and drinking rather expensive alcoholic drinks.

It is completely surreal to have grown up how I grew up - from a time when Mom and Dad had to pinch pennies and generic foodstuff was the sustenance of choice - and to see how they live life now. Four-star hotels. The ability to visit an area's tourist traps without having to first hunt for coupons. No buying food at grocery stores to keep from wasting a cent at restaurants.

Hell, I guess I shouldn't find it that shocking. It only took 30 years of hard work and sacrifice. Mom spent her teenage years sleeping in Laundromats and abandoned cars. Dad managed to feed a family of four, pay a mortgage, and keep the farm going on factory and sales jobs until I was well into my teens.

Dad drinks Wild Turkey 101 exclusively. Won't touch that weak 80-proof stuff. I'd been craving Don Julio lately, not that well swill they call tequila in Oxford. To find a bar that serves both is a pleasant surprise and makes for some very entertaining conversations, especially now that we're both adults ... sort of.

When I say I want to grow up to be like my father, I'm not really talking about maturity. In many ways, my Dad has never really grown up. He still possesses the curiosity of a child, the cheekiness of a teenager, and the awkward sense of humor that supposedly defines my generation.

After about the third round, Dad and I started to wax nostalgic about old family history. Anyone who's ever had the experience of drinking with the men of my family knows that we don't talk in simple conversation. We're storytellers. We spin yarns about long-dead relatives, measure time in memories and legends.

I'm always left utterly amazed when I talk with my father. The older I get, the more blessed I feel to have experienced the things I've experienced in life.

But Dad? I'll never, ever equal his amazing life. I'm quite convinced that he is the world's last true adventurer.

Thanks to my grandfather's military and diplomatic career, Dad saw the world and graduated from high school in Egypt. He was evacuated from Cairo during the Suez fiasco. He and his brother were almost killed when they wandered into a Egyptian military training facility during live-fire exercises.

He's worked as a park ranger in a North Carolina lighthouse, living off cans of beans and fresh seafood. He's been a factory worker, a soldier, a law enforcement officer. He's worked in lumber yards and in clothing plants; he even helped Mom run her construction company for eight years.

And now, in quasi-retirement, he's a handyman in the sixth most affluent community in the United States, making more money fixing doors and remodeling bathrooms than I'll ever make as a librarian.

My Dad has plenty of stories. One day it'll be my job, long after he's gone, to make sure my grandchildren never forget who, exactly, he was.

If it weren't for his stories, I'd know nothing about his grandparents, long-dead relatives, and near-forgotten places from a family's past.

We're a family of storytellers. That's just what we do.

Bourbon and tequila just add to the experience.

* * * * *

When Mom wasn't working, the three of us toured Louisville's blossoming museum scene.

At the Louisville Slugger Museum, we did the factory tour and took in the Willie Mays exhibit.

With Spring Training underway, the factory floor was full of recently finished bats and the smell of varnish. At one point, I noticed carts of bats labeled for shipping and destined for the likes of Jeff Kent, Derek Jeter, and Livian Hernandez.

In the Mays Exhibit, I was moved to tears by the site of Say Hey Kid's famous sunglasses. I don't know why, but I felt more connected to one of baseball's greatest players simply by standing in the same room as his eyewear.

One of the best features of the Louisville Slugger Museum is, of course, the batting cage. Unfortunately, I split my thumb open while swinging at the first pitch - I forgot to take off a lucky bracelet and paid for it with a chunk of flesh. Bleeding and wielding a bat way too heavy for me, I went 1-for-20. The nine-year-old girl in the cage next to me went 4-for-10.

A very humbling experience, indeed.

We hit the Frazier Historical Arms Museum Sunday morning, perhaps the one of the best istorical collections in the city.

With stellar exhibits chronicling the history of the tools of war, one wanders past the likes of George Washington's musket, Zulu spears and Boer rifles, and a cornucopia of ancient weaponry.

The highlight of the trip? Visiting the new Muhammad Ali Center. Talk about one powerful display of the power of one individual to overcome adversity. Segregation. The Draft Board. George Foreman, Sonny Liston, and Joe Frazier.

Despite the split thumb, I went five minutes on the speed bag in the interactive exhibit on learning how to box like the Greatest of All Time.

No heavyweight fight in my future, of course, but it's nice to return to Oxford beaten and bruised after a weekend spent in museums. How often does that happen?

Two days later, my lats and triceps still hurt.


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EsotericWombat said...

My family is one of storytellers as well, though it seems my father is a black sheep in that regard.

Every time I hear the name Willie Mays I think of two things: The Catch, and that he could have played in the same outfield as Ted Williams if Tom Yawkee wasn't such a racist scumbag.

kristy said...

Start writing down your dad's stories. Or, better yet, see if you can get him to do it. When my mom turned 80, I finally convinced her to write about her life (she didn't think anyone would ever be interested). My sisters and I learned much new stuff in the 10 pages she wrote! She was in the WAVES during WWII, and it literally changed her life (she was able to attend college and became a homeowner--as a single woman in the 50's, no less--as a result of being in the navy). Anyway, whoever writes the stories down, you won't regret it.

shayna said...

I love these type of stories with the family... wish I was closer to my parents! ;) Guess I can live through you! ;)

Ogbuefi Stephi said...

louisville? nice...

hey, you. long time no online exchange. i was wondering if you could do me a HUGE favor.

you mentioned press releases before. still willing to supply?

cuz i need a big fat one for the week after spring break.

more details later, but check out my recent post to see what i'm talking about...

l8er s8er

Linda said...

Haha! I knew you were either an archivist or a curator at heart! Nobody knows that much totally random stuff about preservation as you do without some training.

~ Linda

Miz BoheMia said...

Your dad sounds amazing! My grandfather was the one who had many a story to tell but he died when I was 5 and my family cannot be trusted to tell the truth so my history shall be lost...

I agree... it would be fantastic to somehow record all he has lived through!

As for baseball, nothing, I got NOTHING! BUT... I can relate to your excitement over the eyewear... a close friend of mine who is a Tibetan Buddhist monk wanted to send me once for the meditations I used to do in my early 20s. He asked me what I needed and I just wanted a Tibetan rosay (called a mala). He sent me a beautiful, plain, sweet-smelling sandalwood mala the Dalai Lama had given him once. I was shaking when I received it and was so in awe of it! I have never used it! I have it stored away as it is probably my most cherished material possession...

Miz BoheMia said...

That's "wanted to send me something" and "I just wanted a Tibetan rosary"...


cooper said...

Sounds like a sweet time Zenpro.

I also have nothing for baseball but the family story telling I can certainly relate to.

snoopdon said...

Been in a rush lately....

That was a nice story. I was glad to stop by.

The ZenFo Pro said...

Yawkey was a bastard. Sorta like Steinbrenner and his hair mafia... when Johnny Damon cut his hair, it was more akin to the creation of Darth Vader than a free agent signing.

It's on my list of things to do. Whenever I visit my grandmother's house, I always go right to processing my grandfather's papers. I want to have all of the family papers weeded, inventoried and boxed for donation to a university interested in the collection. Figure its probably best to use some of my archival training for something ;)

Oh, feel free hon. My parents are wonderful, hence I'm very careful not to write about them often. (Hey, I protect the identities of total strangers, for chrissakes). There's enough love to go around ;)

Sure, call me when a get back into town. We'll do coffee.

Caught me :) No, not an archivist or preservation officer in my current job, but I do have some training.

Dad is an amazing guy. He's sort of this quiet reserved guy. Wish I'd taken more after him than my Uncle Hube (he played with Hank Williams for a while back in Hank's New Orleans days)...

You know, I've always wanted to sit down and write a "Mysticism of Baseball" book. Baseball is a sport, but it's also this mystic art. I don't know a guy in America who doesn't get a chill watching Field of Dreams or hearing Lou Gehrig's Luckiest Man retirement speech.

You know, I think a lot of bloggers come from storytelling families.

Hey, no worries. Everybody's been swamped lately, or gravely ill, or overworked...