Friday, July 22, 2011

On What It Is To Be A Winner

Last night my son's little league baseball team played its heart out and lost. It was a heartbreaker and our guys were in it until the very end. When the game was over, just beyond the din of the winning team's cheers, our little boys couldn't hold back the emotion. Some wept, some stood still trying to absorb the reality, all were lost for a few moments. And then something funny happened. These boys- well on their way to showing all of us what it is to be men - comforted one another. Moms and dads in soothing stance were joined by a few bumped shoulders, some hair ruffling- some acknowledgement that a teammate was there. Still there.

Tears to sniffles to half-smiles. And if that didn't get them, a few boys doused the coach. If you didn't know it already, a soaking wet coach can urge the belly-laugh out of even the most morose little boy.

So on a night when the season's spent wishes could have easily turned brothers away from one another we savored just a few more minutes together. We lingered over ice cream at a nearby shop, laughing, telling stories, and in the favorite words of my good friend Charlie Sheen, winning. Because yes, there are winners and losers in every contest, and our boys lost that baseball game.

But there are bigger things than baseball. (Very, very few, but there are.) And in every respect when it comes to some of those bigger things - honor, brotherhood, fairness, loyalty - our boys are remarkable champions.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Gal Who's Got Everything

What to get for the gal who's got everything? My Aunt Josie, this is her with my grandmother in a photo from '95, is celebrating her 70th birthday today. For weeks, I've been wondering what I could get for a person who'd probably had their fill of scented soaps and costume jewelry years ago. And it came to me - I love her, of course - and the one thing I've never given my aunt is the one thing she ought to have and only I can give her. So here it is:

I Love My Aunt Josie by Carmen Rodriguez

I love my aunt because she's so bright and cheery. As an adult, I've grown to know when the smile is a little forced and the laugh is a little weary. But I've also grown to admire, greatly, how often she's willing to set aside whatever ails her so she can be happy. What a gift!

I love my aunt because she married and stayed married even though being married is not the easiest thing in the world. When I was little, and long before I was married, I thought maybe she was just married to someone who drove her nuts. Now, as a married person myself, I realize all people who are married drive each other nuts and the trick is to love each other anyway. She and my uncle have weathered a million storms together and should be proud and joyful that they've arrived at this place together.

I love my aunt because she was a devoted mother to my three cousins, Michael, Debbie and Jeff, and because no matter what the three of them cooked up - and there were some doozies over the years - she handled all of it with good grace and humor and strength. She has been an even better grandmother and, now, great-grandmother.

There's a certain positivity about her, a phenomenal resiliance, which I try hard to emulate but can never quite match.

When people talk about a person who is a force to be reckoned with, I reckon they're talking about my aunt. Wary the soul who faces her when she is irate and weary the traveler who treads where she forbids trespass. In our family there's much dither about whether or not we're Italian or Sicilian. When my aunt is on a path, there's no question.

She has been a caretaker to all our family since she was born, and long since an old soul. She has been counselor, aide, nurse, kitchen consultant and gardener-in-chief for all of us and has willingly carried each of us when we were falling, at whatever hour, no matter what else she had in her arms. And she never let you feel you were being carried, you just knew you were being held.

It may be my greatest sin that when my aunt was gravely ill some years ago I did not hold her. I barely called. When the worst of it had passed, I tried to apologize but it was lame and I didn't say then what I'll intimate now. I couldn't go. I was afraid. Bone-deep, I was afraid. My aunt had never been weak a day in my life. I couldn't even wrap my mind around the idea that she might be sick or pale or frail. So I stayed away like a child scrunching eyes shut hoping that if I couldn't see the hurt it couldn't see me either.

Ultimately, my aunt prevailed. Silly sickness. It had no idea what it was up against. I'm certain it was her own will, her own positive soul blessed by a good and forgiving God, that brought her through all of that. She never said a word about how I wasn't there to comfort her, never missed a beat in showing good cheer and great faith during the whole thing and now. I love her for that, too.

She continues to be a force, a go-getter and a rummage sale fanatic. She is always a great help to me at 7 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning when I forget what I need to do with the turkey and she is a tireless dance partner at family weddings. She's always looking for a laugh and ready to share a story. She's fun and smart and makes me feel good even when I don't mean to.

She really has got everything and so all I can add is this: Humbled by my own lacking in your shadow, I am always grateful to have you in my life. I think you're a phenomenal woman, genuine and deserving and good. I think you're a great cook, which matters, because your soul speaks through your food and it is awesome. I think you're beautiful inside and out and I hope you know it. I love your garden, soft and alive and secreting scent and color. It reminds me of you. You have been a good mom, it's not easy, and your love for your children and grand children shows every day, all the time. Your dogged pursuit of good cheer and the smile in every situation is a life lesson I've carried with me all of my days, and it's served me well, so I thank you.

I love you, Aunt Jo, and I wish you every happiness on your birthday and always.