Before there was Derrick Henry

What happens to a tiny town when ESPN comes to town?  Well you throw a party of course.

As the high school and college sporting world descends upon the quiet little community of Yulee, Florida, tonight, I am reminded that this little spot on the map in Northeast Florida has produced a number of college and professional athletes over time.  As a sports fan, our memories are short when the next great thing comes along.  Before they played on the manicured grass of faraway stadiums, ball fields and golf courses, they played catch in the sand spurs and fine, gray sand in this little wedge of a county between Florida and Georgia.

Derrick Henry will join a small fraternity of notable Nassau County athletes as he goes head to head tonight with Kelvin Taylor, son of probable NFL Hall of Fame running back Fred Taylor.  Members of that fraternity include All American Terrence Flagler, running back for Clemson and later the San Francisco 49ers, Daniel Thomas of Kansas State and current Miami Dolphins running back, Ronald Veal, quarterback of the Arizona Wildcats and Rick Stockstill, honorable mention All-American for Bobby Bowden’s Florida State Seminoles.  But Nassau County doesn’t just produce a top tier football player every few years.  We’ve offered up a few other notable athletes as well.

Jon Shave of Fernandina Beach High School spent 15 years in the Major Leagues after his time at Mississippi State.  Other notable baseball players include Reggie Stewart, father of former Bolles standout D.J. Stewart (speaking of recent memory), Anton Mobley, Del Mathews, Michael Johns, manager of the Princeton Rays in New York and Howie Kendrick of West Nassau High School who currently plays for the Anaheim Angels.  Not to mention PGA Tour Pro Bubba Dickerson who won the 2001 U.S. Amateur.  These are just a few notable athletes I recall from Nassau County-feel free to remind me of others.

There are some surprising names on the list, probably some that you come in contact with every day.  Our athletes are not showy, flashing attention seekers.  Our athletes are quiet and humble and have moved through their professional careers with grace and dignity.  When their professional careers were done, some came back to their communities to become our neighbors, friends, coaches and lead unassuming lives.

Once again, tonight the lights will shine on another great Nassau County athlete.  At some point today, Derrick Henry will announce his college selection and his next great adventure will begin.  We wish you well Derrick and hope that you will one day find your way back to the sand spurs and fine, gray sand of Nassau County.


Exposing my literary ignorance

I am a poor excuse for an aspiring Southern writer.  I was just looking through the list of people and places on the Southern Literary Trail,, and realized of all the authors on the page, I have only read two.  Not much of a literary connoisseur I know.

I think I am in love with the idea of Southern writers.  I came to this conclusion years ago while proofreading the master’s level papers for a friend when she would have to write compare/contrast papers on William Faulkner’s characters.  I attempted to read “The Sound and the Fury” once when I was a teenager but simply could not get my head wrapped around it.  I concluded 25 years ago that William Faulkner was a bit of a nutcase.

According to the organizers of the Southern Literary Trail, the only states to produce worthwhile southern literature are Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.  Depending on what your definition of the South is, there’s a few states missing-which coincidentally hold the authors that I have read and reread.

North Carolina would be the adopted home of one Horace Kephart who was instrumental in establishing the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with his friend George Masa.  Kephart should be included amongst the southern literary legends as his book “Our Southern Highlanders” provided insight into the southern Appalachian life and the people.  This was long before “Deliverance” showed the world we were all deaf mute, porch dwelling banjo pickers, a stereotype that prevails forty years later.  Let us not forget Charles Frazier who wrote “Cold Mountain”, which gave us a great account of the hardships of those in Appalachia that stayed home during the Civil War.  “Thirteen Moons” details the life of an indentured servant sent to the boundaries of the wilderness and becomes an adopted Cherokee, sent to Washington to fight for their land ownership.  South Carolina is the home of Pat Conroy, the first author I read that started me down the road of reading for pleasure.  Although I must admit, some of his recent work seems to spend more time whining about the ills of life, maybe it’s just me.  Florida has an abundance of legendary writers that wrote of the land and its people, such as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.  While I did not slog through “The Yearling” while in middle and high school, I did read it within the last five years and found it fascinating along with “Cross Creek”.  Another author, Patrick D. Smith gave us the story of central Florida and its Cracker inhabitants.  Could it possibly be that I have more of an affinity for an author that has written stories of places I frequent? Do I relate to the characters of “Cold Mountain” because I am only five generations removed from a family that had to endure that hardship?  Do I like Alice Walker and “The Color Purple” because I relate to what it was like to struggle through life as a black woman in Depression Era Georgia?  I’m thinking no.  Who the hell knows why I am attracted to the authors and their stories.

It would be easier to name the classic authors I haven’t read.  So for your reading pleasure, I bare my soul and expose my literary ignorance to the world-here we go.  I have not read for pleasure books by the following authors-Shakespeare, Hemmingway, Harper Lee, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Conner, Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald or Truman Capote.  There-I said it.  I am a literary rube.

For some writers I suppose it is necessary to be familiar with Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty and Harper Lee but I just can’t bring myself to it.  For the love of God man I’ve only read one of William Shakespeare’s works, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.  Bill Mason, my high school English teacher, is looking down on me wondering how I ever made it this far in life I’m sure.  Betty Sellers, my college English teacher, will sit and wonder how I could possibly call myself a writer without ever having swooned over the poetry of Byron Herbert Reece.  But alas, I read what keeps me interested.  I guess this is the part of the story where I commit myself to “working on the classics”.  I’ll give Faulkner another try I suppose, maybe even throw in a Hemmingway for good measure.  The mere thought of this daunting task is so terribly unappealing.  The only redeeming thought is “Harry Potter and the….”, sits right on my bedside table for purposes of decompressing from Faulkner’s madness.

The Fine Art of Conversation

I have realized in my ripe, old age of 42 that having a nice long conversation with a friend is much more enjoyable than nearly anything else I can think of.  Between work, raising kids and husbands and the chaos of a middle aged life in general, we women tend to get lost in the grind of life and forget to have fun.  But fun at this age does not entail hitting the club at 10 pm, screaming out how our day went while dancing until 1 am.  No, fun nowadays is a two hour, two margarita lunch with a friend while we discuss why our husbands have turned into grumpy, middle aged assholes.

The fine art of conversation has been lost on some.  I learned years ago in college how to make conversation.  Because we were sequestered in a tiny, north Georgia community, with no bars, no bands and only each other from which to derive humor and entertainment, we were forced to learn the craft.  Many a Friday and Saturday night were spent standing around a campfire discussing one thing or another drinking cheap beer or wine with screw off caps.  No fights, no stupidity, just smiles and laughter.  

As I proceeded through my twenties I realized I really hated the bar scene and longed for more intimate gatherings.  I enjoyed the drinking and dancing but what I loathed (and still do) is trying to have a conversation over the thumpings of a crappy cover band.  I wanted to talk, I wanted to listen, I wanted to figure out where my life was taking me, because we all know we’re going to conquer the world from the hi top table in the back corner.

I tried the dinner parties in my thirties, one major party each year in May where I cooked a massive spread but after a while it just wasn’t doing it for me.  I had to clean the house, prepare the food and clean the mess.  I was surrounded by my close friends but pulling off something of that magnitude more than once a year was daunting and I grew bored with it.  My house was small and my kitchen and dining room were not large enough for full blown dinner parties.  I was often left out of the conversation because I was so busy, so what, exactly, was the point.

In my later thirties my husband and I joined an off road club where families were the focus of our fun.  It worked out well, the husband had like-minded, automotive types around him to keep him entertained, I had thirty and forty something wives to keep me entertained and the art of the campfire conversation was rekindled.  Most camping outings would find two campfires going-the wives around one discussing vacations, schools and the other mindless drivel of thirty something women, the other fire held the men and discussions on the merits of the four link suspension and the compound of the latest off road tire.  Being isolated from the men was never a real issue, as a matter of fact we preferred it that way.

About three or four years ago we left the club, my husband had done all of the improvements and upgrades to the Jeep that he was going to do, and for him, the joy was in the build, not the wheeling.  We recently bought another Jeep but are resisting the urge to rejoin the club.  Its two hours away and the kids are becoming more and more occupied with other interests.  But I do miss the conversations.

It must be stated that conversation for women is so much different than I imagine it would be for men.  I envision the male bonding conversation being highly focused on a topic, behind closed doors with scotch on the rocks in hand with little to no outside interruption.  Men can’t stay focused on their conversation with too many distractions.  Don’t believe for a minute that men can cook and carry on a conversation about baseball statistics at the same time, at least still provide you with an edible grilled item.  A conversation among women can go from what little Bobby accomplished at school to local politics to gossip to the mindless insanity of our mothers in about four and a half minutes, and everyone is completely up to speed.  In one particular conversation I was involved in the topic went in this order; such a pretty girl…why does she dress like that….you know she’s gay and has been hitting on so and so….most people think I’m gay….I get hit on in biker bars by chicks….I don’t have a problem with the women hitting on me its the gay guys that want to be my best friend.  And that ladies and gentlemen is the deterioration of the female conversation. 

I recently became friends with a high school classmate with whom I have had few interactions with since school.  She is married to a distant relative by way of marriage but in the south we’re all distantly related to people by marriage.  Our daughters play high school sports together and we seem to have hit it off somehow, possibly from our mutual love of sarcasm and need for intelligent conversation.  There are rules to the conversation, we must each bring a topic to discuss as these games are sometimes long and boring.  With my friend’s background in community mental health and my background in nursing, most topics surround the brain with my interest being neuro-physiology.  The conversations always start off intelligent and academic-like but usually degrade over the two hours into what stupidity our husbands and sons do, the poor grammar used by those around us and misspelled tattoos.  The conversations take place in fits and starts as it is not seen by either of us as rude to get up and walk away at the end of a sentence.   But the talk begins in the same point it left off with new points being made.  When the season ended our conversations became nearly non-existent until we made the ill fated mistake of having lunch on my birthday-nothing like a $75 lunch tab at a Mexican restaurant, the majority of which was margaritas.  I was happy to pay the price as we laughed and gossiped like twelve year old girls.

I was reminded again this past weekend of my love for quality conversation.  My friends and I from the off road club were reunited for a day of story telling and bellying aching over this, that and the other, mostly grumpy, middle-aged husbands.  We let our friend vent about her loneliness in the big city with no friends and how the most interesting thing that has happened to her as of late was possibly becoming a nanny for two gay men who recently adopted a newborn infant. This is why I subscribed to the notion that real life is stranger and funnier than fiction.  I whined about my husband’s new love of all things gun related (another expensive hobby).  All of this while driving around a campground in a golf cart with beer in hand, ah yes, good times.  

I think I will make it a point of once a month, spending time with a friend, be it lunch or dinner, and have a good conversation.  It seems to lift the spirit and remind me that although life is mostly dull and mundane, a good conversation with your friends is all the entertainment you need.  From what I’ve heard, it beats the hell out of Honey Boo-Boo.

You Wish You Played Like a Girl

My friend last Thursday proclaimed it was like Christmas Day except no, it was only the first game of the college football season which parlays into the much larger term “football season”.  Now Saturdays and Sundays can be occupied with the more joyful tasks of consumption of mass quantities, adult beverages and hours of football beginning around 10 am and winding down around midnight.

As much as I proclaim to be a fan of football, I missed the Saturday games this year (and most previous years) as I took four teenagers to a camping spot to visit with friends and ride golf carts with reckless abandon.  My only source of college football information was the Scoremobile app on my Droid.  It seems I didn’t miss a whole lot except for the epic beat down of Michigan and Denard Robinson.

With the beginning of football season comes the ever popular Fantasy Football Draft.  I have not played fantasy football in a few years so I was anxious to get back into the mix.  My previous forays into fantasy football met with less than stellar results.  After one exceptionally mediocre year I swore off Michael Vick for good.  But this is a new setup with me having to manually draft my team.  My team, I think, is just above average with the top flight quarterbacks already taken, except for Peyton Manning.  Oh yeah, his back up this year will be everyone’s favorite fantasy draft bust Michael Vick.  I have some well known players such as Victor Cruz but when we got down to the fourth and fifth rounds I started to go with players I was familiar with such as Jaguars or Bulldog/Gator/Seminole players that were successful in college.  So we shall see.

I’m the only girl in this particular league, although women are beginning to play fantasy football more and more.  The girls can bring the smack talk just like the guys but we must make sure the seven layer dip is heated through before we sit down for game day.

So get your stats and smack talk horn ready-for tonight the Dallas Cowboys and New Your Giants kick off the pro football season and another mediocre fantasy football season for me.