Ghostman on first

kickball

Every now and then, when I hear a certain song, I am immediately transported to another time and place. Music has done that to me for as long as I remember. But the other day something happened that occurs much less frequently. I heard someone say a single word and I had the same sensation. At the sound of that word, I was a nine-year-old, running bases in my grandmother’s side yard.
The word was “ghostman.”
Unlike the current soccer hoopla the World Cup frenzy has caused, the primary game neighborhood kids and I used to play that involved kicking a ball was kickball.
Friends along the East Coast tell me kickball is cool again. I say, “Again,” like it was actually cool at some point in the past, which may or may not be true. Even so, we played it throughout childhood. Kickball was the game of last resort.
It was, and I presume still is, a flexible game. The bases work — even when they’re haphazardly placed, close together or far apart. The only equipment you really need is a ball. The details of the ball are negotiable.
Do kids today make do when playing outdoor games? Do they even play kickball? Do they know the magic the word ghostman conjures?
The other excellent thing about kickball of yore was that the game could accommodate however many people we had. If we had 15 people, that was great — one team had seven and the other eight. More often, we had fewer players, but we could make that work too.
In fact, many times, I played kickball as a team of one against my childhood friend Dayna — and those are the memories the word ghostman brought to the surface.
When playing with minimal teammates, kickball required certain adaptations, and ghostmen or ghost runners played critical roles in our game. Granted, ghostmen were a heck of a lot better at offence than defense, which meant that winning the toss was critical in a game of one-on-one kickball. With the help of a ghostman or two (or even three, if you played your cards right) the top half of the first inning could last longer than back-to-back episodes of Gilligan’s Island.
For the uninitiated, here are the brass tacks of ghostmen: your first player kicks the ball and runs toward first. If the runner makes it safely and it’s time for the next kicker, the runner on the most advanced base has to yell, “Ghostman on first (or second or third).”
Once that critical sentence was yelled and acknowledged by the other team — then and only then, the player would leave the base (leaving base without the yelling and acknowledgement could result in being tagged out) and go back to home to kick again. With the new kicker in place, the process would repeat. The defense had the opportunity to get either the next runner out at first or a force out for the ghostman at another base. For the record, ghostmen run at the same pace as the real runner. The defensive player simply has to get to base before the real runner makes it to first. If the runner and ghostman both make it to base safely and no one runs home, then a runner has to repeat the process.
Ghostman memories made me wistful. Just the word reminded me of a time when everyone around me knew, respected and operated within the rules. Ghostmen required a degree of honor I miss. They also reminded me of everyone being willing to make a situation work for one and all, regardless of what we had or what we didn’t. And finally, I dream of the days when I could leave my ghostman safe on first, assured he will continue the job. Then I jog back home and start on the next task, knowing ghostman was on my team and would work just as hard as I did.
Go, ghostman, go.

Keep calm and keep on reading

Greer reading on stairsResenting the go-go pace of life does no one any good unless they take action. Through the years, I’ve found a successful combination to a respite from a world that’s going too fast.
First, I start really evaluating the invitations that come my way and say no to a lot more of them. Secondly, I start reading more. Specifically, I try to read at least one book every two weeks. That may be too much reading for some, but the act of reading, in and of itself, forces stillness — regardless of your goal.
In the spirit of inspiring some of you to find a healthier pace of life and do something good for your brain, I’ve put together a list of recommended summer reading.
I polled fellow readers with the question, “If you had to recommend one book that people should read this summer, which one would it be and why?” They reminded me of some great choices to share.
Finding the right book to read can be tricky — especially when you’re recommending for those who don’t read often. The stakes are high stakes. I’ve put two weeks of thought into the following list and hope it helps you to find the right book for you. Finding the right book for others is not a one-size fits all proposition. I’ve evaluated various recommendations and taken the liberty to advise which books might be best for different groups of readers. The best case scenario is that you’ll find more than one that’s right for you.

If you want to feel more connected to the younger crowd and need a lesson in recognizing joy, love and beauty, read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

If you’re needing a bit of adventure in your life and are looking for encouragement in the face of defeat, read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.

If you’re looking for a manly read, read Lonesome Dove (women like it too, but men tend to love it). The tale is funny and the characters resonate, because, as my friend Matt Jones says, “all of them, in one form or another, live within you.”

If you prefer non-fiction and you’re interested in gaining insight into our nation’s current immigration struggle, read The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories from the Arizona Borderlands by Margaret Regan.

If, for whatever reasons, you can’t take a trip this summer and you really want to, read one of the following: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Hawaii or Poland by James Michener or Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. Those four books are great summer reads. With intensely wonderful storytelling, each of the lengthy books has the ability to transport you to a different time and place.

If you work at any level in the medical field — or you like non-fiction and are interested in learning about a collision of cultures, read The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman.

If you’re a fan of Latin American literature or are interested in reading contemporary classics, try One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a Nobel Prize winner.

Read Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy (and I can’t fully explain my reasoning here, but here goes) if you’re going through a tumultuous time. Maybe it’s because I read the book when I was going through a turbulent time and there was something, in the chaos of the story, that I found comforting and stabilizing.

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck is an old favorite. If you missed it somewhere along the way or remember enjoying reading it decades ago, it’s worth a re-visit, especially if you’re interested in understanding more about the Chinese culture.

If you’re just looking for a good old-fashioned love story that is beautiful and unstressful to read, try Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter.

If you’ve read every book on this list and still need a recommendation and like a good “who done it?”, read The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling. Rowling published the book under a pen name presumably to see how it would do without the force of Harry Potter behind it. With great pacing and character development, the book (which targets adult readers) is a wonderful read. Expect Rowling’s primary sleuth Cormoran Strike to become a force on his own — no wizardry required.

Happy summer and happy reading. Slow down and enjoy it!

Finding the right rain

rain fun

Unless lightning and thundering are shaking the rafters, I love the rain. Lately, I’ve had lots to love.
These days, when I’m dodging raindrops trying to remain as dry as possible as I run toward my car or a door, I often think about a night long ago when it was raining cats and dogs. It was the summer before my senior year in high school, and I was at cheerleader camp.
The rain that night was a real gully washer. Everyone started running for cover. However, at some point mid-run, I realized I was as soaked as I could ever get, why hurry further?
My friends were initially confused when I stopped running. Then I explained and it didn’t take much persuading for four of them to adopt my attitude. From that point, “Why not just play in the rain?” wasn’t far away.
At first, we began dancing under a streetlight in the middle of an empty parking lot. It was a closed campus. No cars would be heading our way. The parking lot was our paradise. We noticed the water formed rivulets coming from various directions rushing toward drains. We began to wonder if we could create a human dam to build a small pond. We used our bodies like building blocks and formed a variety of structures to temporarily hold the water back. The five of us lay head to toe across sections of the parking lot and created a shallow wade pool.
I remember being deliriously happy rolling around that empty parking lot in the rain. I remember how the hot asphalt smelled as the rain cooled it. I remember how the raindrops weren’t cold or hot that night. I remember the way I could see the rain falling where the bright streetlight was streaming. I remember the way the wet tasted like summer. And I remember the juxtaposition of the gritty asphalt compared to our slicky, wet bodies as we piled up to block the water.
If you’ve ever played in rainwater that way, you understand the fun we had. If you haven’t, the next time the right rain comes, find the right friends and give it a try.
That night was some of the most fun I’ve ever had. The rest of the people hurrying by, of course, looked at us like we were crazy. I doubt any of them remembers that night. But for those of us who spent about an hour dancing under a streetlight and stopping rushing water with our arms, legs and torsos, the night was enchanted — and we remember it well.
I recall my thinking as I made the decision that night to play in the rain. It’s only water. I bathe in it every day. I swim in it often. I drink it. I wash my clothes in it. If it’s not lightning, what harm can the rain really do? All I have to do when I get inside is towel off and change clothes. I can do that.
Sometimes these days, I stand at the edge of a storm, dreading to run out in the rain and those thoughts begin to trickle in. It’s only water…. Unfortunately, too often these days, I follow that thought with the long list of places I have to go and people I have to see. For whatever reasons, I don’t have time to get wet and change clothes.
But before this summer is done, I’m going to play in the rain.

A Little Free Library tour

Marion and Robert Rosser speak with Little Free Library founder Todd Bol, in their front yard in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Marion and Robert Rosser speak with Little Free Library founder Todd Bol, in their front yard in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Back on one of those cold, icy days in February, I first encountered a Little Free Library while on a walk not far from home. I was delighted by the charming structure and the whole idea of “Take a book. Return a book.” I took pictures and walked home as quickly as I could to learn more about Little Free Libraries.
The next week I wrote a column about the wonder of Little Free Libraries. I had learned that the total of Little Free Libraries around the world was approaching 15,000 — I couldn’t believe I was so late to the game!
A few days after my column ran, I was then delighted to get emails from all sorts of people interested in Little Free Libraries — including the steward of the library I had written about and a man named Todd Bol, in Wisconsin, who founded the Little Free Library movement.
I was hooked from the moment I laid eyes on that first structure, but the response from others only strengthened my interest. In celebration of my birthday, my husband built me lovely Little Free Library. Last weekend, he put it in our front yard.
In perfect timing, on Monday, I was surprised to hear from Bol, the Little Free Library founder, again. He emailed to say that he was headed to Louisiana and wondered if we could meet, go to dinner and take a tour of Little Free Libraries in the area.
I was game!
In my Little Free Library education, I had learned that after UL’s architecture program had a Little Free Library contest that many of the student-created structures were put up and not registered with the international organization, based in Wisconsin (which maps all the registered libraries across the world). So, I out a call on Facebook for advice on where many of the little box, birdhouse looking libraries are located. People responded with great enthusiasm.
I collected the info and when Bol arrived in town Thursday afternoon, we started our whirlwind tour of the area.
The main thing I learned during our tour is that anybody who will go to the trouble of putting up and maintaining a box full of books for others to read and enjoy makes it quickly around the bases in the category of “ people I want to know and be friends with.”
Our first stop happened to be the home of one of the first people I met in Lafayette, Catherine Schoeffler Comeaux. Bol and I pulled up in front of her home and he proceeded to knock on the front door with Little Free Library gifts in hand. From that point on the evening was like something out of a movie. When she opened the door, he explained that he was Todd Bol. Before he finished the sentence, she shouted, “You started the Little Free Libraries!” She was as excited as I was. He gave her a variety of bookmarks and knickknacks, we chatted for a few minutes and then were off to our next Little Free Library.
All total, we visited eight Little Free Libraries in Lafayette. Only two other people answered the door. We were pretty sure some of the others were home, but most folks these days are hesitant to answer the door to a stranger with pamphlets in hand.
However, our stop near Oaklawn Park, at one of the loveliest little structures I’ve ever seen, reaffirmed everything I knew in my heart about book lovers. Robert Rosser built the beautiful red schoolhouse structure at his wife, Marion’s, suggestion. Complete with a working bell in the belfry and a backdoor (and separate room) for children’s books, the Rosser’s Little Free Library was clearly an act of love. The couple has lived in the house for nearly 50 years and agrees that the Little Free Library has caused a wonderful hubbub in their lives and neighborhood.
All in all, it was a wonderful, restorative night full of the good stuff that makes me happy to be human.
For more information about Little Free Libraries, go to www.littlefreelibrary.org