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The Samurai's Heart by Walt Mussell

The Samurai's Heart

by Walt Mussell

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

If Joyce Kilmer Had a Bad Day

As a kid, I always enjoyed the comic strip “B.C.” My favorite character was Wiley, a crotchety old guy with a wooden leg who also managed the baseball team. (Yes, baseball in caveman days. It’s a comic.)

Wiley was also the poet of the strip, often composing amusing ditties with a message at the end. In one strip, as he is sitting under a tree, he begins writing “I THINK that I shall never see A poem lovely as a …”

And then a tree limb falls off and hits him on the head. Wiley gets up and storms off, saying, “The world will have to wait for Joyce Kilmer.”

We had our own tree situation at our house. A tree at the edge of our backyard died. My wife and I think it was due to a bolt of lightning. Whatever the cause, it was rotting slowly. A few months ago, pieces started falling off. Each time there was a storm, we’d look out in the backyard the next day and see limbs on the ground. A safety issue waiting to happen. We assumed that one day tree would come down on its own. We have a large yard, so we knew it wouldn’t hit the house. Still, the house wasn’t our main concern. We worried about limbs hitting our kids.

We told our boys not to play close to the tree and they obeyed us as we searched for a solution. The cost of removing a tree was enormous, though we could cut it if we didn’t have the stump ground. The longer we waited, though, the more chance that we knew the tree might come down on its own. In addition, with the tree being dead, the issues surrounding removing it safely would also likely increase the cost.

A few weeks ago, another storm took out another limb from our tree, smashing a part of our back fence with it. At that point, my wife and I knew we could no longer search for a deal. One of the contractors we’d gotten a quote from came back with a lower price. We took it.

They came out a few days later and went to work on our tree. First, they removed part of our fence that hadn’t been destroyed. Then they cut off a major side limb that grew out of the base and now reached heights over half the size of the tree.

Next was the most difficult part. One of the men climbed halfway up the tree and tied a rope around the trunk, then moved down and began cutting under it. The men on the ground eventually pulled the top of the tree down to the ground, where it shattered on impact. From there, the men cut down the rest of the tree and then cut it up.

Later that afternoon, they left. The tree was gone. Sawdust remained. We were happy to have it done.

And our backyard was safe again.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Once A Generation

Last week my 8-year old finished his CRCT, his standardized tests for the state of Georgia. This week, my 12-year old son is taking the tests for his grade level. And after it’s done, the kids will still study for school and tests, projects, etc. But the biggest challenge, worry, or whatever you want to call it, will be over.

On Monday, my son had his Reading test. Today, he has Language Arts. Given his language challenges, these two sections are easily his most difficult exams. Still, after helping him prepare, I wonder if those sections, particularly Language Arts, would cause problems regardless.

For starters, my boys did all of the practice exams on the state website, retaking the tests where they did poorly and discussing with us the wrong answers. For Language Arts practice, my wife copied the wrong answers from our 12-year old’s tests and placed them in a word document. She got confused when she went over the questions.

“Honey,” my wife asked, “what’s a predicate nominative?”

“It’s a noun in the predicate that renames the subject. Sort of like. ‘He is a middle school student.’ ”

“What’s a predicate adjective?”

“Adjective in the predicate that describes the subject. Sort of like ‘The car is green.’ ”

“What’s an appositive?”

“Not a clue.”

Last Saturday, we devised a plan for the final push. And on Sunday, laptop in hand, I took my boys to Sunday school. My younger son went to class.

My older son sat with me in the narthex while we discussed predicate everything, appositives, direct and indirect objects, etc. From there, we went home and had lunch. I went on-line and found practice sheets for everything that was throwing him. After church that afternoon, he worked on them. We then took a break, did reading comprehension, took another break, did some science and history, had dinner, and then went over his language arts trouble spots one last time before he called it a night.

Sometime after the kids had gone to bed, my wife asked the big question. “Is he ever going to need that stuff when he grows up?”

“Yes, some day, his kids will be studying the same thing he is now. He’ll have to go through it with them, However, it’ll be more difficult.”

“Why?”

“I learned it in 8th grade. He’s learning it in 6th grade. When he has kids, they’ll be doing it in 4th grade.”

Until the next generation then.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Eight-Year Old Dreams of Cy Young

“Dad, can you show me how to throw a change-up?”

My eight-year old future Braves phenom wannabe flashed his hopeful smile at me as we took to our cement pitching practice arena (aka, the driveway).

“No, I don’t know how to throw a change-up. You need to ask someone who can actually tell you the right way.”

“How ‘bout #48 from the Braves?”

Images of Tommy Hanson, the Braves #3 starter flashed through my head. “Uh, you need to ask somebody we know.”

“Oh,” my little guy said, as we threw warm-up tosses. “Somebody we know, huh?”

“Yes, but you need to work on just throwing the ball. Get the ball over the plate as hard as you can on a consistent basis.”

“Yes, Daddy.”

He threw a few pitches as we began our simulated start. The goal is to throw 50 pitches, similar to the rules in his league. (Fifty pitches or less and he can pitch in 48 hours. Anything over 50 and he has to wait for 72 hours.) We’d been going every two days since spring break started, hoping to keep him fresh when the season resumed. Like every day we practiced, he opened up with a strikeout of his first batter after getting to a full count.

“Nice job,” I said, tossing the ball back to him. “You ready for the next batter?”

He nodded and smiled and that should have alerted me. Something’s up when he’s quiet. He stepped into his wind-up and appeared to have a hitch before throwing a ball that did a good imitation of rolling off a table.

“Strike,” I said.

“That was my change-up. What did you think?”

I grudgingly admitted it had been a good one, but admonished him to focus on just getting a good pitch over the plate. Consistency. Consistency. Consistency. Given that he’s eight, I knew what was coming next.

I saw that little “stop hitch” again and hoped for similar success. The pitch hit the rim of the basketball goal and bounced into our garage.

“Ok. Remember the first rule of driveway. No hitting Mommy or Daddy’s car.”

He stared at the ground and promised not to do it again. We finished the rest of the session without incident, making it through two simulated innings. He looked at me, proud of getting out of a jam after walking the bases loaded.

“Dad, can I try throwing a side-arm?”

“Do you know anybody that throws a side-arm?”

“Yeah, #58 for the Braves.”

Though I wasn’t sure of the number, I knew who he meant. “Sure,” I said. “Go look up the number for Turner Field on the Net, gives the Braves a call, and when they answer, ask to speak to Peter Moylan. Maybe he’ll help. In the meantime, we’ll try to find somebody we know.”

He smiled as he went inside to wash up and get ready for dinner. Meanwhile, I thought to myself, who I am going to find that can show him how to throw those pitches? If any of you readers know Tommy Hanson or Peter Moylan, please ask them to get in touch with me. Thanks.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Breakfast and Lunch

I want to welcome back all of my readers. It was a nice break. I worked in the yard, played with the kids, and, yes, I did watch a little basketball. And with end-of-year tests for both my kids coming up, I’ve decided to cut back to once a week. I’ll be posting on Tuesdays.

The order laying on the kitchen counter was brief: 2 eggs, 1 toste, 2 bakun. My eight-year old, my waiter and sous chef, had planned for a couple of days how we would celebrate my wife’s birthday. He’d decided we’d fix her a special breakfast. (My older son had decided we should sneak out to go card shopping for her the night before. In other words, none of us, me especially, knows what to get my wife for a present.)

But back to breakfast.

My younger son’s biggest concern was the place setting. He wanted to make it look good. “Daddy, can we go to Aunt Jeanne’s and get one of those towel holders for the table.”

“Towel holders?” I puzzled for a second. “You mean napkin rings?”

“Yep, napkin rings.”

I chuckled and told him not to worry and showed him where we kept such items. He rolled the silverware in a paper towel and shoved the package through the ring. I made bacon, eggs, toast, and coffee. When it was ready, he went upstairs and fetched his mom.

“Wow, looks delicious,” my wife said, laughing. “I thought I said two toast.”

“Nope, one toast,” my son corrected her.

“Aw, I thought I said two of everything.”

But the little guy was sure of himself as my wife started chowing down. I made a second piece of toast while the boys looked for ketchup and hot sauce for the eggs. The boys then brought out the cards and wished their Mom a happy birthday.

Now, the toast was a minor thing (and I’m sure my wife did say two of everything), but I wondered how my son could have messed it up,

I wondered only until Monday.

My wife called me at the office late Monday morning. “Did you take the leftover curry for lunch?”

“Uh, yeah, we discussed it last night.”

“I changed it, though, don’t you remember? (Our eight-year old son) wanted it for lunch today. I wanted you to take something else.”

I recalled last night’s conversation. M wife was right. But with me hunched over my computer writing away, her words had not resonated in me.

At least my wife knows where our son gets it from.