Lesson 6 Scene: Brian’s Song

Brian Piccolo lay in the hospital bed, motionless. The tubes in his arm were supplying the chemo that his body was not responding to. He looked to be frozen in pain, as frozen as his sterile room with its bare and cold antiseptic smell. His wife could barely stand seeing him, a football running back for the Chicago Bears now laying weakened and barely breathing and death at his doorstep.

Trying her best to steady her voice, she leaned over and whispered, “Brian, Gayle’s here.”

It seemed to me that Brian was waiting especially for him as he raised his right hand in anticipation for their brotherly grasp.

Through slitted eyes staring ahead, Brian agonized over each shallow breath, his sticky mouth opened in determination to speak though his body was trying to suck him into a vacuum and pull him into oblivion.

Even in his weakened state Brian never lost his good natured spirit. “Remember when you got me with those mashed potatoes?”

“You deserved it.” And after a pause he added, “…the way you sang that dumb fight song.”

As I shifted in the recliner, I saw tears gather in Gayle’s eyes. My own tears flowed as I recalled each of those particular moments portrayed in the movie. It amazed me that in the midst of the ridicule and cruelty they suffered from being the first black and white players to room together in the NFL, they fought together, not only to preserve their NFL record, but their steadfast friendship despite the critics.

Their last conversation ended with Brian persisting in cheerful optimism. “I’m gonna get you next training camp.”

Though Gayle must have felt very doubtful, he looked very sincere. “I’ll be waiting.”

It broke my heart to know that there would be no training camp for Brian at the end of that summer. If only they had some sort of treatment for his cancer! Even if he had some role on the team that would make him still be a part of the team or even the NFL, but I knew that beating cancer even in the 70’s was a daunting task—just about impossible.

I lay in bed with the movie scenes flashing through my head. How did his wife coped with the loss of her husband? How did she manage to raise her three little girls without him? What would she say to them? Bending over, I rewound the cassette tape. “I’m gonna get you next training camp.” Good. The recording came out. The library! Yes, I would go to the library tomorrow and search for the book or maybe an autobiography by Gayle Sayers. If not, then I would go to the Public Library. Maybe that would give more information about his experience with the death of Brian. Oh, maybe I could buy it! Yes, I’ll also check the bookstore.

I eventually bought the book, “Brian’s Song,” going over all the moments of the movie. I searched for Gayle Sayers’ book that he wrote in memory of Brian called “I Am Third.”

It inspired me to take out other autobiographies of other NFL players popular at that time so I could really know and understand their lives and the struggles they faced through their journey to the NFL, and it continues to this day.

 

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Lesson 4: Opt. Exercise: Conflict scene

I saw his silhouette coming into view as he approached the door and my stomach began to churn. He quickly entered looking disheveled and distracted but looked around in dissatisfaction at the dishes piled in the sink and clothes strewn around here and there.

Staring right ahead at the football game, I sat frozen, pretending I didn’t take notice of him. I hoped he would just fly by me and go get whatever he came in for but his heavy footsteps stopped suddenly when he saw me in the rocker.

“What are you doing watching football? Look at this place! Get over here and do these dishes!”

“I will in a minute.”

“NOW!”

As he came closer, my brother looked like a towering giant even at 20 years old. Being only 14 and the youngest of the family, I always feared getting tossed around or beat up so I quickly ran to the sink and turned on the faucet. My eyes stung as I watched the bubbles rise, hoping he wouldn’t do anything else to me.

“You better clean this place up good or I’m gonna beat the crap out of you.”

“I will!” I said angrily.

“And your homework better be done too.”

“It Is!”

To my relief distant footsteps bounded down the stairs, and I knew it was my sister. It was a welcomed distraction.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“This kid is watching football and not doing any work around here.”

Before I knew it he went into the living room to turn off the game.

“Make sure she doesn’t watch any TV until this place is clean.”

Turning around, he finally headed out and left both of us in silence for a moment.

“I’ll do the dishes and pick up, but can I turn the TV back on? I really want to watch this game, I looked at her eye to eye, pleadingly.

She rolled her eyes and sighed. “Get these things done.”

I held my breath and paused a moment. “OK.”

After she went upstairs I ran to the window to make sure my brother’s car was gone and turned the game back on as I steadied myself from the upset, but sighed in satisfaction when I realized we had come out ahead.

One way or another, I was going to watch my football game!

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Lesson 3 Ex 4 The Beginning of my love for football

Ex. 4

Watching college football with my brother, Victor (16) and watch NFL football on Sundays–

It was the weekend of my Jr. High days. Autumn was upon us and the air was crisp and cold and all I could think about was the upcoming football games I would be watching. It helped a lot having my brother Victor watching with me when he didn’t have football practice, himself because on Saturdays we would make sure we had dibs on the TV for 4 hours to watch his favorite college teams. He would point out certain players and the positions they played. Even though I didn’t really understand the particulars of offensive and defensive formations, I was hooked on watching how these guys performed.

It wasn’t long before the drama began with our whoops and hollers filling the house to the point where it became annoying to my mom, who was trying to enjoy Polish music on the radio.

 

It was even more exciting watching the NFL teams play on Sunday. Our local team were the Buffalo Bills and we had our ace running back, OJ Simpson that made our team a favorite. However, this was a challenge due to the fact that it was a family rule that Sunday dinner was to start exactly at 1 pm—no excuses and everyone was to be at the table. I couldn’t deny that the aroma of mom’s Polish cooking was irresistible but I couldn’t help but keep an ear open to what was going on with the game. I ate fast and tried to get out of doing dishes as much as possible, much to the rebuttals of my older sister. I did help if I had to, but I constantly stuck my head around the corner to watch what was going on in between drying plate, cup and silverware, and it didn’t help when Victor reacted to every play he saw: “Aw! 4th down! NO, they’re going for it! It’s a pass!! Oh my God, Touchdown!! Wow that was incredible!!”

This went on and on until my sister got tired of me running in and out of the kitchen and dried the dishes herself or somehow the dishes got done without me.

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how my fascination with football grew–5 details

  1. When I was in Jr. High I began to watch football with my brother. He was 16 and on our high school football team. We would watch college football on Saturdays and the NFL on Sundays. I would often forgo doing homework until after the games were over and I would try to get out of chores. My brother would tell me about certain college players and the positions they played and I eventually learned how the game was played

 

2.) I became interested in our local NFL team, the Buffalo Bills. At that time we had a player that was the envy of every other team out there: OJ Simpson. It made watching the game very exciting, but I became interested in other teams and other players also. I became interested in their professional careers and their lives and I began to check out books out the library and read biographies about them and their journeys into the NFL

3.) The movie, “Brian’s Song” was shown on TV about football star, Brian Piccolo and his friendship with the first black NFL roommate with the Chicago Bears. It was a story about racial tensions, friendship and dedication to the sport. Brian Piccolo dies and leaves the team grieving. The movie touched me deeply. Back then there were no VCRs but when the repeat came on I remember I tape recorded the whole movie on a cassette tape recorder and listened to it over and over again.

4.) My brother, Victor passes away but my love for football stays with me, as well as my memories of him. When I watch a game, I think of him.

 

5.) I move to New England and become a Patriots fan even though we are not very good. Then in enters Tom Brady. The way our team turned around by his leadership after Drew Bledsoe went down was nothing short of miraculous. I followed his career closely after that. In fact, during the season he lived in the same town as my sister—the same one who couldn’t care less about football—I knew his address and phone number. He was even seen around town by the neighbors. I knew his favorite eating places but unfortunately never got to talk to him. I know Victor would have been amazed with him.

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Memoir Writing – Lesson 8 – My Later Years

I am celebrating my 75th Birthday this week.  I have traveled with my youngest daughter, Heather, and her son Brian via car to visit my eldest daughter, Dawn, in Sugar Land, Texas.

Dawn’s husband and two oldest children live in Texas.  Our trip is two-fold: Visit my daughter and her family.  Sprinkle my companions ashes in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Since Heather was the only one who could drive, we took two days to drive from Ohio to Texas.  She was not in the mood to drive from Sugar Land to Las Cruces.  A train ride was arranged, then renting another car in New Mexico to go to Las Cruces.  That has been accomplished.  Steve’s ashed got spread in Las Cruces. We have plans to meet up with Dawn’s oldest son on Thursday, but because the train doen’t return until Friday, Heather and Brian are going to ride a bus to San Antonio where Dawn, Kent (Dawn’s middle child), and I will join them.  Kurt who lives in San Antonio will pick them up at the bus station and we will all meet at the Alamo.  Plans are to see the Alamo and do the River Walk.

All of this may not seem hard or stressful, but to me it is.  Sprinkling my companion’s ashes is the last thing that we can do for him and it has been seven years since he passed away.  I have not seen this daughter and her family for over eight years.  Relations with her and I, and her and Heather have been strained.  I felt she let me down after my heart surgery.  I asked her to make sure my bills and rent got paid.  I made arrangements for her to pay them out of my account (my companion said he didn’t know how to do it).  She did it for me for the first month but I was away from home for three months.  My bills did not get paid for two months.  Then she suddenly moved to Texas!  Divorced her husband!

The stress between her and her sister was regarding how they raised their children.  Dawn was constantly yelling at her children.  Heather was quieter.  She treated him like an adult to some extent.  Dawn felt that he was a spoiled brat and felt entitled.  It was just recently that they started speaking to each other, again.  I know it’s for my benefit.

It is hard for me to do normal things, like move quickly, get in and out of chairs, making meals, and I feel like a burden at times.  Heather, who cares for me and tends for me, tell me that I am not a burden for her.  Going to Las Cruces and spreading Steve’s ashes is doing me a favor and giving her a small break from me.  Dawn gets to deal with me and my needs in the meantime.

I’m sorry if this may have veered from our assignment this week, but it is tough and stressful to me mentally and physically.

 

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Master’s – Yes or No MW 8

Master’s – Yes or No

The application for and the acceptance of my Master’s program at University of Idaho was convoluted and many years in the making. Upon completion of my undergraduate degree at University of Saskatchewan, I applied and was accepted.  However, my wife wanted to complete her nursing diploma which she had stopped so I could follow my dream.  So I turned down the acceptance offer.  My wife went to Selkirk College in BC.

I chose to stay in Saskatoon as I was employed by Agriculture Canada as a term biological technician. The position was slated to become permanent but a change of government resulted in a hiring freeze.  I was put on casual and supplemented income by hauling hay, collecting and selling scrap batteries and other cash jobs.  The long distance made our love grow fonder and on one of my visits to BC, we were blessed with a pregnancy.  While I tried to stay in Saskatoon, as the hiring freeze was “temporary”, finances and family commitments required a decision.  I moved to Trail, BC and got a job with Cominco, the large lead-zinc smelter.  I started as an assayer’s trainee and passed my Assayer’s exam within 1 year.  The irony was that several months after moving to Trail, I was offered my old job in Saskatoon.

We had our daughter a week after my wife completed her nursing diploma. After a year and a half of assaying, boredom had set in and I took a cut in pay to take a Systems Analyst trainee position.  About this time we took a trip to Deary, ID to visit my wife’s relatives.  Being only 24 miles from Moscow, I decided to stop in at U of I to see the professor I had corresponded several years before.

I knocked on his office door, went in and explained who I was. He said, “Ah, yes, the Canuck.  I have your file right here.”

He reached into his desk drawer and pulled out my application. He perused the application quickly and then queried if I was still interested in pursuing a Master’s program.  I replied, “Well, yes, I have given it some thought.  But finances currently are a bit of an issue.”

“I just happen to have a potential project in SE Alaska that I was thinking of turning down. I need a mature student capable of working on their own in remote environments.  You would be provided a research assistantship and a tuition waiver.  Would you be interested?” he asked.

“Yes, very interested but I need to discuss it with my wife. Can I get back to you?”

“Ok, but don’t take too long as the funding may disappear. Safe travels.”

Driving home to Trail with my wife and two girls – a toddler and an infant, we decided now was the time to get the Master’s while the girls were still young. When I got back to Trail, I informed my professor of our decision.  Immediately, I began work on the research proposal with an expected fall start date.

While the proposal was accepted, due to our financial situation, I could not start in the fall and revoked my resignation from Cominco. This was after they had given me a congratulation’s cake.  The next start date was planned for January, and another cake was provided.  I then revoked my resignation again.  The third time was the charm, I quit Cominco (no cake this time) and started directly into my field research in SE Alaska.  Our financial situation had not really improved but the research program needed to start given funding constraints.  The family stayed with my wife’s parents for the summer.  We moved to Moscow for the fall semester.

Finances were indeed tight. We ate a lot of lentils and utilized food stamps.  Near the end my wife managed to get some work as a nurse.  Most of the students we knew were poor and many single students came to our student housing for lentil soup.  As I was ending my program I had the opportunity to make it a PhD but our third child was on its way.  We needed to get back to universal Medicare and family support structures.  So no PhD at this time.  I promised my wife that if or when I did a PhD it would not cost the family in terms of time or finances. I finally got my PhD at 53 years old after all our four daughters had left home.

The Master’s program and research were very successful. I ponder sometimes how fate works, doors shut, doors open.  Sometimes the hardest part is just going through the door.

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Memoir Writing – Lesson 7 – Writing about people – Teachers

I had picked one teacher, but as I started writing this lesson there were three that had made an impact on me.

My first “romantic” crush was on my bookkeeping teacher, Mr. Foos.  He was soft spoken, Latin-looking (dark hair, dark eyes, and tan skin), and helpful if you got stumped.  I loved listening to his quiet voice.  I tried my best to get detention from him, but never succeeded.  I lived close enough to school so that I could linger in my front yard so I could wave at him as he left school.  I’m pretty sure he knew I had a crush on him, but he never brought it up.  I still think about him now and then wondering where he is.

My nemesis I’ll call her, was the Home Economics sewing teacher.  She would give us an assignment on what to make.  Mrs. Singer, was slender, grey haired, and pinch faced.  Her opinion was the only opinion.  Our first assignment was to make an apron.  Easy to do, nothing to argue about.  Second assignment was to make a skirt.  Again not a problem.  Pajamas were next, then came our final “exam”.  We could make whatever we wanted with her approval.  So Mom and I went to a fabric store and purchased a dress pattern, the material, thread, buttons, and whatever else was needed to create the form fitting dress.  I took it into school and Mrs. Singer rejected it.  When I asked why, I was told I was too skinny to wear a dress like that.  Naturally I went home very sad about this.  Mom, when I told her about this, marched me back to school to catch Mrs. Singer before she left for the day.  She told Mrs. Singer off and said I was going to make this dress whether she liked it or not.  I won’t allow it to be in the runway showing, Mrs. Singer stated.  We’ll see, Mom threatened.  I made the dress.  It looked beautiful and fit me the way it should.  Mrs. Singer apologized for telling me I couldn’t make it, and it was on the runway.

The teacher who affected me the most was my twelfth grade English teacher.  I don’t remember her name, but she got me interested in writing.  I wrote poetry and essays.  The essays where class assignments and we were encouraged to read them out-loud to our classmates.  I can’t even describe this teacher except to say she was a female.  My love for writing is strong and growing.  Thank you, lovely lady!

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A World of Difference MW 7 Ex 3

A World of Difference

Reminiscing about teachers both bad and good, I am transported back to my Junior High School, Grade 8 to be specific. I experienced my worst teacher ever and one of my best teacher ever in the same semester.

The worst teacher ever was my math teacher, Mr. Andersen. He was 50+ years old, short, squat and balding.  The man did not even really teach.  He would mumble for a few minutes at the front of the classroom drawing a formula or two then tell us to read our textbooks and complete the assignment at the end of the read section in the remaining 50 minutes of class.  Anyone silly enough to ask a question was quickly humiliated, so that stopped early in the semester.  Class discipline was maintained by Mr. Andersen throwing chalk, rubber erasers or the chalkboard eraser at the offending party which was often me.  He would slap a yardstick down on your desk or grab you by the short hairs by your ears.  It was very demoralizing and many were brought to tears.  Fortunately, I could learn math on my own and would tutor my friends and others in the class so they actually passed.  I heard after I got to High School that he had been forced to “retire”.

In stark contrast, Mr. Brown, my Grade 8 Social Studies teacher was an absolute gem. He was tall, muscular, full head of hair and about 30 years old.  He always academically challenged us in class and on our assignments.  The assignments were practical and interesting covering a wide array of topics.  Some topics were ours to choose if we wished.  Topics were lively debated in class with orderly input encouraged from the whole class.  He was always willing to help out when you were having difficulties with assignments or school in general.  With him around you felt that you had someone in your corner protecting you.

The only positive side to Mr. Andersen’s class was I learned I could tutor well and enjoyed doing it. Even though I frequently suffered his wrath in class for doing it.  The slap of the yardstick would make my ears ring.  Being yarded out of the classroom to see the Principal by the short hairs was very painful.  But standing up to him and helping the others was worth it.

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Memoir Writing – Lesson 6 – Voice and Perspective – Not Afraid Of

Try as I might I could not think of a thing that I was afraid of as a child.  I always felt protected.  Whenever a babysitter was called for it was either my mother, my father, an aunt, or my grandparents.  My sister and I were never left on our own.

We went grocery shopping with our parents.  We went to church together.  We went on picnics, to the zoo, or fishing as a family.

The one thing that did scare me happened when I was thirteen going on fourteen.

Mom had given birth to my brother in October of 1955.  In March Mom and I had gone out to pay the auto insurance and to do some shopping.  Dad was home with Diane and George.  Mom drove to the auto insurance office but it was closed for the night.  We headed off to the grocery store.  Mom was making a left-hand turn onto the side street next to the grocery store.  A car headed in our direction was in its left-hand turn lane, but changed his mind and pulled out into the ongoing traffic lane where he stepped on the gas.  He hit the passenger side of our car, where I was sitting.  Our car got pushed into a car on the side street waiting for his light to change.  Mom was thrown from our car and under the wheels of the third car.  I was knocked out on the front seat of our car.  The car that hit us had his engine pushed into his lap.  Even though three cars were involved No One Got Hurt!

The car that hit us had his front end pushed into its front seat.  Our car looked like an “X”.  The third car, the driver who had seen everything, had a damaged fender.

Mom drove our car home!

Dad came stomping out of the house demanding to know where we had been.  We had left in the daylight and returned when it was pitch black outside.

In a firm, yet steady, voice I was told to go inside.  Then she told dad to take a look at the car to see if he could tell why we might be late.  Not once did he ask if I was hurt or if Mom was hurt.  All he cared about was how she drove the car home.

None of that was very scary to me.  The scary part was the day Mom disappeared, five days after the accident.  I don’t know why she left, but she was gone.  I had to watch Diane and take care of George while Dad frantically looked for Mom.

I was so afraid that my mother wasn’t coming back.

Dad never did find her.

The next day Mom walked in the front door.  She went to the room she shared with Dad and shut the door.

Dad told us to stay in the living room and to take care of the baby.  He knocked on the bedroom door and was allowed in.

Things went back to a newer version of “normal”.  The episode was chalked up to the “baby blues”.  Mom told me that she had sat through four showings of the movie “Top Banana” at the all-night movie house.

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Lesson 3 Conversation

Lesson3: Writing Exercise—Conversation with Bill

 

The gloom that hung on my shoulders weighed on my footsteps as I approached the steps to the subway in busy downtown Buffalo. Time to go out and job search again, not to mention finding a new place to live, but looking up I saw a familiar face with a gentle smile. He was one of the men from the transitional house I was staying at. We had introduced each other, though the men and women were not supposed to converse. Coming up the steps, his compassionate eyes fixated on my negative demeanor.

“Um, Ok, I guess. Things are hard—you know.”

“Yeah.” His smile lingered as his eyes shyly swept over me from top to bottom, as if he was oblivious to his own situation.

Putting his hands into his trench coat pockets, his expression suddenly changed to intense concern.

“Can—I—ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“Do you pray?”

Uh—yeah, sometimes, I guess.”

“Have you ever asked God what his will is for your Life?”

“My mom talks about that! What does that mean?”

“His direction for you. Pursuing what he wants you to do.”

“No,” I said, shifting rather uneasily. Although it did intrigue me. “How do I do that?”

“Tonight before going to bed, think about this day and the events that took place. Get on your knees and thank Him for everything that happened, whether good or bad. Tomorrow when you wake up, get on your knees again and ask Him to show you what His will is for the day. Then throughout the day, check in with Him every so often just by a brief thought. Tomorrow night before going to bed, get on your knees again and thank Him for the day. If you keep doing that, you will eventually come to know how He speaks to you and how He is leading you.” He then paused for a moment.

“Are you interested in trying it?” he asked, cocking his head to the side.

“Yeah,” I said, feeling myself come to life.

“Good. Let me know how it works out. I have dish washing duty tonight so when you bring your dishes over from your side I’ll pass you a note and share some more things that have helped me. Take it to your room and read it and write one back to me. Bring it to dinner with you. Then maybe we can talk some more. “

I wasn’t scared of him. I was also desperate for direction. Bill and I became fast friends and he was able to help me understand the disease of addiction that gripped the guy I had been seeing. In his letters he wrote a lot about 12 step recovery groups and even invited me to one. Mostly I was interested in my relationship with God to grow, and it did. I was eventually led out of Buffalo and began an exciting new life.

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