Maddie and Me Back on the Trail

Maddie and me at the fountain downtown.

My best girl arrived in town from her new home in Memphis yesterday evening just in time to change clothes, eat dinner with her other grandparents and head out for a play. We saw the delightful “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and posed for a few photos along the way.

My friend Susan shot the pix and after taking the one above, she said, “This doesn’t look like Roanoke, it looks like a big city in Europe.” And, indeed, it does. And my best girl doesn’t look like a little girl any more. She’s 5-feet-3-inches now and wearing herself very much like the young adult she is. Though she’s still just as sweet as the 5-year-old I simply adored.

Tonight, we celebrate Father’s Day and tomorrow, I take Madeline out to Craig County for a week of Survival Camp at the wonderful Dina Bennett’s Mountain Shepherd Survival School. Dina is taking on a group of pre-teen and early teen girls in a fun and important camp, one I think Madeline will simply love (she did last year).

(Photos: Susan K.)

Maddie and me awaiting the play.

A Lively Bee at Mill Mountain Theatre

Spelling Bee contestants (that’s me at the back left)

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,”  playing through July 1 at Mill  Mountain Theatre in Roanoke is a lively songfest that gives audience members–including moi last night–a chance to show their spelling skills.

The “real” actors belt out a song.

This is a bouncy musical/comedy featuring a cast of nine young summer employees at the theater, all of whom are recent college graduates or rising seniors, and these kids can sing. The director is Jay Briggs, whose impressive credits continue to grow.

I got an email from Jay yesterday morning asking if I’d agree to be one of four audience members called forward to take part in the show–sans rehearsal, script or any idea what we’d be asked to do–and I jumped on it. I’m no actor, but I thoroughly enjoy being on stage. The minor irony is that, although I write for a living, I’ve never been much of a speller, relying heavily on SpellCheck, which I didn’t get to use.

The four of us volunteers played off cues and “acted” the best we could, occasionally pulling in a laugh (at us, I suspect), but like the play in general, it was a hoot. For me, it was special fun, since I had my grandgirl, Madeline, with me. Maddie is in town for a few weeks of summer and I hadn’t seen her in months before yesterday, so this was a fun surprise.

The best line of the night (for me and mine) came when Josh Walker, playing a bouncer on work release, escorted  me back to my seat and said, “Go to your mom,” who was my friend Susan.  That will resonate for some time.

That’s me trying to spell a word without SpellCheck.

The play features Jillian Hannah and Scott Wilson as the assistant principal and real estate agent running the bee and Alex Vinh, Claire Hilton, Christopher Castanho, Brian Wittenberg, Rosvic Siason and Lizzy Hinton as the competitors.

They all sing quite well and bring a real energy to a play that is as good for kids as it is for adults. There are occasional vague off-color references, but they’ll go right over younger kids’ heads.

This is a genuinely funny show with laugh lines that often bump into each other. The play is on the Waldron Stage (MMT’s smaller black box theater) and tickets are $15.

(Photos: Susan K.)

After misspelling a word–I forget what it was–Josh Walker, who was “on work release” gives me a hug.

The cast at the finale.

0-10 and a Peak Experience

Bob Rotanz, my son’s first real coach.

On June 11, I wrote a piece recalling newly-crowned state champ Patrick Henry High’s first lacrosse team and the first public school team in the western half of Virginia. My son, Evan, was on that team, which finished with a record of 0-10, but one that was notable because the kids, many of whom had never seen a lacrosse game before they played in their first, improved so dramatically.

I was having lunch with my good friend Roland Lazenby at Mac ‘n’ Bob’s in Salem today and ran into Bob Rotanz, who owns the restaurant and coached that PH team. Now, Bob was an All-American lacrosse players, the player of the year, a two-sport star at Roanoke College a member of its Hall of Fame, a multiple award winner for his community service and involvement. He is, in short, much honored for his athletics and as a man, the kind of man you’d want coaching your son.

He is also the kind of man you’d want coaching his daughters (two of whom played lacrosse at Tech).

Bob scored the game-winning goal in overtime in the 1978 national championship.

All that said, Bob took me aback with one of his brief comments today. “You know I’ve done a lot with sports over the years and enjoyed it all,” he said, “but I think that year of coaching the PH team was the most satisfying sports involvement I ever had.”

An 0-10 team coached by a hall of famer and the winless team is the winner. I was speechless, but I fully understood what Bob was getting at. Those kids showed commitment, grit and a great deal of courage. They began the season losing to Virginia Episcopal School 22-0 (“the coach told his players to stop shooting in the second half,” said Bob), but finished the season with a 7-4 loss to that same championship team.

“At the half of that game,” said Bob, “I didn’t give anything like a motivational speech. I just told the kids I was proud of them. One of the boys said, ‘We’re down 2-0, Coach, how can you be proud.’ I said, ‘I want you to look across the field at their coach. He’s about to explode, throwing his clipboard, yelling at everybody. You guys did that to him.”

Sarah B: Oh, That Smile!

Sarah B ‘n’ me.

My good pal Sarah B Rawz (the artist formerly known at Sarah Beth Jones) sent me this selfie she took when we went paddling on her birthday last week. That’s me looking like I’ve been hit on the head, while Sarah B shines that electric smile for you.

Just A-Walkin’ in the Rain … Gettin’ Soakin’ Wet

Vic Thomas Park Bridge in the rain.

This park bench shows beaded rain.

So this morning I’m up bright and early, ready to write one of the five stories I have due this week and I’m rearing to go. I finish research on Story 1, write it and ship it off.

I always feel like a reward (human equivalent of a dog biscuit) when I finish a story, so today I figure the reward will be a quick hour and a half walk … maybe even a walk in the rain if the writing gods cooperate.

And dang if I didn’t get it. Ab0ut halfway through, I was already soaked with sweat and the sky gently opened up with a cool drizzle, which slowly became a steady rain, one that soaked me through and through.

I got home, thoroughly refreshed, sat down and wrote Story No. 2 in 30 minutes. Amazing what a little rain and a brisk walk will do for production.

This Betty Branch creation is especially fetching in the rain.

That’s a biker coming at me, two walkers with umbrella going the other way. The rain is light here, but I’m soaked and happy.

A Quiche for Dad in the Fam Tradition

Maddie’s in the kitchen; la la la …

My best girl, Madeline, followed a long-standing Smith family tradition this morning when she made her dad–my son–a quiche for Father’s Day.

Mine is a family of cooks. Dad did it for a living; mom fed eight kids; another brother cooked in the Air Force and all of the rest of us (save for my older brother, Sandy, I suspect) cook well. My two kids are good cooks. Evan (and his wife, Kara) are teaching Madeline now and Oz later to cook. It is not only an important life  skill, it is also an artistic expression and a way many of us show we love you.

Maddie seems to have taken to it like eggs to a souffle. And I’m proud of her. Bet her dad is, too.

(Photos by Kara Smith.)

Get the pastry ready first.

You gotta break some eggs, girl.

Make certain it is even and balanced.

Remember what your great-grandma said: “It’s all in the presentation. Pretty tastes better.”

A Difficult Father’s Day Remembrance

Dad cooking barbecue in a pit in about 1959.

My father died in the spring of 1960, just short of his 50th birthday and two months shy of my 14th. He was a physical mess. The last time I saw him, he was in an iron lung, which was breathing for him, and he weighed less than 100 pounds. He was pale and wan, his eyes dark and deep-set, his smile forced. His teeth were gone.

Dad, an alcoholic who had periods of sobriety through my life, had relapsed, left home briefly and fallen in with some people who drank bad moonshine in Johnson City, Tenn. The moonshine was poison and it eviscerated Dad inside, rendering most of his organs inoperative. His death came after a months-long struggle and quite a bit of family upheaval.

Dad was a lost soul from the time he was kicked out of the Army during or just after World War II (I can’t establish exactly when). He wanted to make the Army a career as an officer. Instead, he got a year in Leavenworth Federal Prison for going AWOL. He left without leave because he was told he would not be able to re-enlist; he had diabetes and he would be medically discharged. He broke the Army’s rules by leaving before he had permission.

This was the tall blond athlete and scholar who had been the leader of his class at Virginia Tech (athlete and Captain of the corps), who had been a picture-perfect Army officer, who was bright, outgoing and smart. Now he was a failure, a man with a dishonorable discharge and a troubled soul. At this time in America a less than honorable discharge from military service resulted in a life sentence of disgrace.

Mom and Dad near the time of his death.

Dad couldn’t get a job where he was qualified: business administration. He settled for cooking in corner grills, small restaurants and soda fountains. He ran a couple of pretty good sized restaurants eventually, but the role was limited, as was the pay. Supporting a wife and gaggle of kids was difficult, nearly impossible. Then he died, leaving nothing.

Dad worked so much and so hard that he had little left for us kids. He was up at 5 a.m., ordering food for the restaurant in that deep, sonorous voice that he tried to keep low, with not much success. I remember a few instances when he and I interacted, but not many. He once hit me fly balls in the back yard until I missed one and the baseball bounced off my head, knocking me out. We never did that again.

Mom rarely let him cook in her kitchen because he was messy, so I didn’t get much of a chance to see how good he was. Mom said he was great, but she didn’t want to clean up after him. There was the big barbecue we went to where Dad was the star, staying up all night with the pig, basting and turning it. He made the Brunswick stew, too. It was so good I could have cried–but didn’t.

A big weekend was a drive from our home near the Savannah River, across into Augusta, Ga., to Julian Smith Park for a fried chicken picnic and a stop by Dairy Queen and an frozen custard cone for each of us. The cones of soft ice cream cost a nickle. Gas for the trip was about 15 cents (30 cents a gallon). We stretched the budget.

Dad died with a lot of questions unanswered, some of whose answers, I suspect, would not please me, but they would tell me where I came from. I think we all want to know that. And sometimes we just can’t.

Happy Father’s Day to All You Good Parents

I ran across this young family paddling down Tinker Creek toward the Roanoke River yesterday morning and thought, “This is what it is like to be a parent, a good one.”

I like what the parents have done to modify the canoe and how each has a kid in tow: Mon with the little boy in her lap and Dad with the little girl facing him. They chattered and laughed until they went out of sight.

Protection for Americans Diminishing Daily

Getting lost in the low-end TV sit-com/reality show/soap opera that is the White House these days is that the people of the U.S. are staring at life-threatening enemies with a diminishing layer of protection.

Donald Trump, the ostensible president, has fired nearly everybody in key departments hired by the previous administration and has failed to replace them. Whether it is the Justice Department, the spy agencies, Health and Human Services, the FDA (protecting the purity of our food and drugs), upper military officials or heads of a wide variety of key agencies, Trump has been AWOL. He’d much rather Tweet than govern, much prefer to fire than to hire, prefer to complain not repair.

Trump, says the NYTimes this morning is, “an impatient New Yorker by nature. [He] has been unable in his first months in office to bend Washington to his ‘you’re fired!’ ways. He is frustrated, friends say, and unsure what to do — apart from tweeting.” Even the tweets are inflammatory, often nonsensical, full of incorrect information and basically the product of an immature, selfish, spoiled, rich child accustomed to getting his way.