Normally, Dad’s drinking was quiet and subdued, but sometimes there was unexpected drama. At Christmas, when I was sixteen, Dad and I went shopping for a Christmas tree. Each year, this was a major production and massive effort on Dad’s part. He loved Christmas more than anyone I knew. Planning and searching for just the right tree was a welcomed ritual for him. Because we placed the tree in our den, the tree had to be just right. Our den was large and beautiful; sixteen feet by thirty-two feet, and it had a twelve-foot high ceiling. Its walls were planks of pecky cypress and stained a dark, red oak color. Each of the giant beams that spanned the ceiling had been hand-hewed by Dad. The den had a 14-foot long bar made of red oak and a solid brass foot rail. The den was featured in several newspapers and magazines, and when Mom was questioned about the solid brass foot rail, ever frugal, she replied, “Had we known in advance the price of brass, we might have used something cheaper—like gold.” Continue reading
In the fall of 1965, Ricky Richardson went away forever. I decided that “Ricky” was a childish and immature name for a diminutive boy. I was a man, according to Dad and me, and I was starting high school. Not wanting to be called Ricky anymore, I dropped the “y” and I became Rick. It took a while for my family and friends to get used to the name change. I had to remind them often. “My name is Rick,” I said. “R-I-C-K… RICK.” Dad and my newer friends had no problem with my new name. Mom and Kriste would stop calling me Ricky about the time I turned forty. Continue reading
It was Friday, and I was looking forward to school getting out so I would have the weekend for pizza at Paul’s Friday night, work Saturday, and a little fun Sunday. I thought I was due some fun, because just three-days earlier, November 19, 1963, we had buried my great-grandmother, Frances Livinia Johnson Swain. Granny died at the age of ninety-two, and my family had been living with the sadness since.
At school that Friday, I had just returned to my seventh-grade classroom from lunch when we received shocking news. As I was digging under my cluttered desk searching for the book needed for our next lesson, the principal’s voice came on over the loud speaker hanging above the blackboard. Sister Mary Iratus’ voice, usually commanding and menacing was soft and halting. She said, “Boys and girls, a few minutes ago President Kennedy was shot in Texas. Please get on your knees and offer a prayer for our President.” Continue reading
I’ll never forget my first home run. I can’t. No one hearing the story would believe it, except that one of the mothers recorded the whole event with a movie camera. On this particular afternoon at a game, Mom, who was at every game, was hollering, cheering all the boys on my team, and giving the umpire hell when she thought he made a bad call—just like she always did. You could hear Mom all over the field. She stood up in the bleachers, yelled encouragement to all of our players, waved her arms, clapped her hands, and swung her hips to celebrate a hit or a run. As usual, Mom was at least as entertaining as the ball players were, and the rest of the fans loved her and howled at her antics. Continue reading
In the fall of 1963, at the age of twelve, I started my first job. I was trying to follow Dad’s example of being responsible and hardworking. The job was in an old-fashioned mom-and-pop grocery, which wasn’t so old-fashioned in those days, a block from my grandparents’ house, two doors down from the barbershop, and next to the Rexall drug store. Continue reading
I made one great blunder when I was an altar boy, and I was afraid it would be the end of my altar boy career. One morning I was serving the children’s Mass, and it was during the distribution of Communion when I did the unthinkable.
To receive Communion, the congregation formed a line down the center aisle of the church, and then waited for their turn to go up to the communion railing and kneel. There, they waited for the priest to pass before them and place the Communion wafer (called the “host”) on their extended tongues. Continue reading
As the result of a recent Facebook post, which caused some controversy among my friends, I am forced to admit that I was a racist for the first half of my life. I had no clue that I was one. Like most people, I equated racism with bigotry, and I had certainly never been a bigot. However, I almost always gave preference to white people, Catholics, heavy drinkers, baseball players, funny people, and writers—people just like me. It was easy, comfortable, and predictable to have people like me around me. That took no effort. That took no risks. Continue reading
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