I have a diverse and eccentric reading appetite and one of my latest was a book by Yogi Berra, title “When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It.” Yogi Berra’s wit made him an unique and unforgettable character in baseball and in American culture. The son of Italian immigrants, he dropped out of school in eighth grade and worked part time jobs while he played ball. He was a catcher with the New York Yankees and a manager who played in a record 75 World Series games.
“When I was about fourteen, my family and the parish priest were real worried about me. I was lousy in school. I didn’t want to work. I wanted nothing more than to play sports. … I loved baseball. That’s all I wanted to do. Pop didn’t know baseball; he was from the Old Country. He didn’t think you could make a decent living from it. My three older brothers, Tony, Mike, and John – who all would’ve been better than me if they didn’t have to work to support the family – finally convinced Pop to give me a chance to become a professional ball player. My brothers never got their chance, but they knew how much it meant to me. I owe everything to them. Without my brothers, I never would’ve gotten the chance. “
He is a delightful combination of the practical, the whimsical, the shrewd and the innocent. His quotes can be real mindbenders at the same time they make complete sense. Here are some of my favorites.
When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
Slump? I ain’t in no slump… I just ain’t hitting.
We have a good time together, even when we’re not together.
Public speaking is one of the best things I hate.
He’s learning me all his experience.
If people don’t want to come out to the park, nobody’s going to stop them.
Don’t get me right. I’m just asking.
If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.
Ninety percent of the game is half mental.
Why buy good luggage when you only use it when you travel.
You can observe a lot by watching.
It’s déjà vu all over again.
Never answer an anonymous letter.
Little league baseball is a good thing because it keeps the parents off the street and kids out of the house.
A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.
It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.
It gets late early out here.
If you don’t set goals, you can’t regret not reaching them..
If I didn’t wake up, I’d still be sleeping.
Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.
Most people know me by my face.
I love movies when I like them.
If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.
The future ain’t what it used to be.
Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t go to yours.
The last ten days or so I’ve been caught up in watching the TV series “Lost” on Netflix which ran from 2004 to 2010. That’s right! Six years with a total of 125 shows. I haven’t had a TV since 2009 and never seem to watch anything in real time anymore. I’m still catching up on programs from five years ago.
If you haven’t seen “Lost” the premise is simple. Plane crashes on unknown desert island and the survivors try to survive until they are rescued. There are other inhabitants, strange temples, secret laboratories, semi-immortal beings, Men in Black, etc., all punctuated by murder, lying, betrayal, battles, theft, love and loss. All of the ingredients of an epic drama. What’s not to like?
Partly, what kept me so riveted were the characters. They were larger than life and after a while reminded me of the gods and goddesses of mythology – which is just another way to categorize outmoded religions. There was a struggle for leadership of the group which often resulted in people dying after which one of the main characters would feel remorse (or not) and then try to make it right by doing it again. In other words, they were always trying to ‘fix things’ that resulted from their self-serving actions or misjudgments.
This desire to ‘do it again and do it right this time’ was one of the recurring themes of the series. In fact, as the story progressed, time travel and alternate lives/realties played a role. What would life be like if the plane hadn’t crashed, or so-and-so hadn’t died, or the castaways were rescued? The desire of the characters to change ‘reality’ into what they wanted was at once frustrating to watch as well as poignant for I could see every man’s struggle therein. I won’t be giving anything away by saying that in the finale the message was “to let go and move on.”
I was astonished by the number of times a character would lie to the others, withhold information or betray their friends. They would agree to do something and then not keep their word. At the same time, the other characters would somehow forgive them, give them another chance and repeat the cycle. This was a pattern for all of the characters. Sin/error, forgiveness, second chance, sin/error, forgiveness, third chance.
Then there were the recurrent questions such as “Why am I here? What am I supposed to do? “ It’s not surprising to me that the series was such a great hit – in fact, some consider it one of the best series ever on TV. The island offered the perfect stage for the game of life in all its complexities and the characters were very convincing in their roles. It underscored the message that this earth and this life is just a play in which we all take part.
As I said, it was an epic presentation with its themes of life and death and the larger-than-life characters specifically because of their flaws were very believable. The suspension of disbelief allowed me to watch it as a morality play – the same possibility Star Wars offers – and to see myself and those I know in the cast.
I read various reviews of the series after I watched it and other viewers were vehement in their reactions – from total support and praise to angry denouncements and disappointment. Granted, there were some dangling plot points and unresolved issues but the story line wasn’t written all at one time. TV shows can be canceled at any time and there is no reason to plan too far ahead, making it that much easier to leave loose strings. I have more thoughts engendered by this show that I will address in a later post.
The pace is picking up in our march towards summer. The sun is rising by 5:30 and we have already experienced some 90 degree days. The little neighborhood park I often visit has also changed its tempo.
With the warmer weather more people are out walking and the old oak trees that stood in contrast to the brilliant blue skies of winter are now in full leaf and throwing deep shadows on the lawns. Even more children are in the playgrounds and the noontime parking lot is filled with the cars of local workers taking their lunch on the picnic benches.
This morning I parked near the small man-made pond. It was a short walk from the car to the park bench but by the time I got there my left knee was already aching. I sat down with relief and watched about a dozen ducks and geese splashing in the pond, dipping and diving for food.
Then I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye and when I turned my head I saw a giant gray and white goose standing beside me. He was at least three feet high and had a large knob-like protuberance at the top of his bill. Those webbed feet were silent, I thought with some suspicion, as I looked him up and down.
He tipped his head and eyed me thoughtfully. I looked back at him and had what I sometimes call a “St. Francis” moment. Here we were, I mulled, two species part of the Great Circle of Life and seeking to relate on some intimate level. A beatific smile nudged the corners of my mouth.
That was about the same time said goose stepped closer and began bumping his chest against my left leg. My eyes widened, my mouth formed a silent O. I was about to protest when its big beak pecked experimentally at my leg. “Whoa!” I exclaimed, all thoughts of the interconnectedness of life forgotten as I reached for my cane.
We joined in a silent Vulcan mind meld and wrestled for dominance. Then the connection was broken and tossing its head it gave forth a great “Honk!’ and waddled away its tail feathers twitching in triumph. I slumped against the back of the bench and panted.
After a few moments I nonchalantly pivoted – which is like carefree only less concerned – and threw a backward glance over my left shoulder. The goose had taken up an observatory position about fifteen feet behind me with a heretofore unnoticed companion. Both geese were sitting on the grass, their x-ray eyes fastened on my back.
Feigning unconcern – which is like pretending only not as much fun – I turned back, determined to ignore their basilisk stares. Periodically, a variety of honks and honklettes issued from the pair and broke the peace of the morning. Soon I felt an unexplained burning in the center of my back accompanied by an increased tightness around my head.
I fidgeted, I twitched. I weighed the value of lingering longer. As I rose from the bench I whistled a happy tune under my breath, grasped my cane firmly an with some trepidation which is like being on the look out for a trap, set off down the path. As I rounded the corner the sound of derisive honks echoed in the morning air.
Mother’s Day will be here in a few days and as someone living in a senior community it is a touchy time for many residents. Those who never had children feel a little left out, and those who did have children are secretly praying that they will not be forgotten on this special day.
My own mother died about eight years ago at the age of 93 but today as I reflected I saw there were some other mothers I wanted to remember. First, my Aunt Lucy who is still going strong at 97, God bless her, and my cousin Mary who is in her 80’s. Both women were very good to me all through my life. Then there is my daughter-in-law Lori who is such a good mother to my grandchildren. I sent them all a card to remind them of my love.
But there is one more mother I do not want to forget. I was adopted as a baby and never knew my biological mother – who is probably 80-something now if she is still alive. Her name was Eleanor Fisher and from what I heard she was of Scotch-Irish heritage. Back in 1944 she was going to college – which was still pretty rare for most women back then. I assume she got pregnant by a soldier- it was wartime.
I was born at St. Elizabeth’s catholic hospital in Meadville, PA and she named me Linda Lou. I don’t know if she was ever allowed to see me or to hold me in her arms. In those days they discouraged such things. I was placed in foster care for several months and then adopted by my mom and dad just before I was scheduled to go to the county orphanage.
I have had some curiosity about this absent mother off and on during the years but other than registering at a national adoption match agency I never sought her out. Partly I thought it was best to let sleeping dogs lie and partly I didn’t want my adoptive mom to feel I didn’t love her – and she would have.
In any event, although I have never sought out Eleanor she has always been in a private part of my heart and today I want to acknowledge her. Believing that intention is stronger than physical reality, I want to send a message into the cosmos knowing that it will find its way to her where ever she is.
Mama, thank you for giving me life. It could not have been an easy time for you in those days when an unmarried pregnancy was so shameful. I hope your family stood by you and that you were not alone. I hope you loved my father. I must have been conceived in love because there is so much in my heart.
Through the years you have probably thought of me many times and wondered how I was and wondered if you did the right thing. I did pretty good and you did do the right thing. I had a good start in life and I went to college, too. I had two fine sons along the way and now have three grandchildren.
I hope you married and had other children. I hope you got to experience the joy that we couldn’t share together. Don’t feel any regrets or sorrow. I know you did the best you could and that you loved me. If there is such a thing as another life, I want you there to meet me when I come home. Wear a red rose in your hair so that I will recognise you.
Happy Mother’s Day, mama,
Your daughter Linda
I was walking through the produce section of my neighborhood grocery store feeling that delectable combination of smugness and virtue. Was I not overhauling my eating regimen, pulling exotic recipes from long neglected tomes, washing out vegetable drawers in the refrigerator, laying in stocks of long braided garlic and hanging fragrant bunches of herbs from a nail?
Yes, I reflected with satisfaction as I delicately pinched a particularly plump tomato, I was changing my ways, taking to the high road of health, eschewing (which is like chewing but without teeth) the bloodier fare I had so longed embraced, and I was turning my affectionate eye upon the leafier members of nature; to whit, I had determined to eat more vegetables whether I liked it or not.
It is thus that I begin my story today, a story that not only imparts the fruits of hard won wisdom but also reveals a long and checkered planetary history that has heretofore lain fallow. (You must be alert from here on in my puns and metaphors take on a decidedly agricultural cast).
The turning point, so to speak, the “Eureka!” of my morning meander, came when a small boy (out of the mouths of babes) turned to his mother and said, “What’s that?” and pointed to a large purple item resembling a bowling pin. “An eggplant,” she replied, hefting a bag of potatoes into her cart. “Does it lay eggs?” the young boy said with wonderment.
It was Paul on the road to Damascus all over again! When my mind stop spinning and my sight returned I was staggered by his deductive reasoning. I reviewed the implications of his innocent observation. Anyone who is at all interested as I am in the study and history of words will see that the road I was taking did not lead to Syria. Etymologically speaking (which is like epistemology but without the irritation) this was an actual ‘what came first, the chicken or the egg’ situation.
Why was a purple vegetable shaped like a bowling pin called an eggplant? Were chickens so enraptured by their flavor they laid more eggs? Was chicken fertilizer used to deepen it purple coloration? Did chickens really lay eggs – or did they secretly grow them behind the henhouse in the dark of the moon? I reeled!
Being of a philosophical turn of mind, that conundrum led me to other immediate observations and syllabic acrobatics. For instance, was spinach so named because it induced a twirling reaction when placed in the mouths of small children? Is there a correlation between cheerleaders and rutabagas – or was that Winnebagoes?
Did eating squash lead to the desire to step on ants? Did beans really make you snap? If a Catholic ate Jerusalem artichokes would he convert? Did cantaloupes contribute to the demise of nocturnal flits to Niagara Falls? Were tangerines a contributing cause of reckless driving? What part did asparagus play in the recent rise of Asperger’s Syndrome?
One after the other these alarming and as yet unanswerable questions swirled through my defenseless mind. I mopped my brow and leaned heavily on the shopping cart as my knees began to wobble. No wonder vegetarians were so strong and healthy. They had to be to withstand and vanquish this onslaught of associative thinking.
Needless to say, I exited the store without making any purchases. I had not realized that when they said eating more vegetables would change your lifestyle it should be taken literally. I gave a silent prayer of thanksgiving that I had been saved from taking this rash step and took up the reins. I cracked the whip and shouted “Mushrooms!” to the dogs and we were off!