Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Name change

I decided to change the name of my blog. I didn't like "Leisha's Life" when I chose it, but at the time I couldn't think of anything better.

When I was at Tallahassee Community College, I became the sports editor of the newspaper, and got to write my own column. I named it  "Out of Left Field" because that reflected my somewhat offbeat sensibilities. That title went with me throughout college and into my professional sportswriting career.

I thought about naming my blog the same thing, but as I am pretty staunchly NOT leftward-leaning in any way, shape or form.

So "Out of Right Field" it is... After all, isn't right field where they put the weakest of the outfielders?

Monday, December 27, 2010

The 50th Anniversary Party

The 50th Anniversary Celebration is in the books, and it was a smashing success. More than 100 friends and family members gathered on Dec. 18 to share this incredible occasion. I even managed to get through my speech without dissolving into sobs! I had to stop listening to my brother when he was speaking – his quoting of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 just about did me in!

Here’s an excerpt from what I said about my parents:  Their life has always been together. They were born the same year, graduated from high school the same year, both became teachers, and since meeting at Ga. Southern, have never been apart. For most of the last half of their working lives, they even worked together. Even after they retired, they continued working together in their consulting and antique businesses.

My brother and I have always felt like we grew up in Mayberry. We moved around some before settling in Chattahoochee, which was a wonderful place to grow up. We were part of the last generation who could ride our bikes all over town without worrying. And if we were doing anything we shouldn’t have, news of our escapades usually made it home before we did.

Michael and I loved football, but neither of them cared much for it, but they bought season tickets to FSU games for years. Mom became a huge fan – just ask her about her favorite players, Rohn Stark and Dennis McKinnon!  They were always doing stuff we wanted to do,  and supported whatever it was we did.

They were strict when they needed to be, merciful when we didn’t deserve it, and always made us laugh. One thing that we have always had plenty of is laughter. And when the tough times came, we managed to laugh and love our way through those too.

I’ll never forget my senior year in high school. The family business was suffering and on the verge of failure. Of course, Michael and I had no idea. Mom and Dad had always been frugal, and I didn’t miss out on anything that I remember. But I had big dreams of going off to college and making my way in the world – I even dreamed about going to New York. We had been talking about moving to Tallahassee, as Dad had gotten a new job. Mom and Dad sat me down and told me that they wouldn’t be able to afford to send me to college. I was stunned, but they told me that if I would live at home and go to TCC for the first two years, they would do everything they could to send me wherever I wanted to go my last two years.

God’s hand was all over that situation. Their business losses were so large that my first two years of school were basically paid for. At TCC I got to be the editor in chief of the student newspaper, and got to go to the College Press Association conference in New York! Plus, living at home, I kept a 3.5 GPA! And true to their word, they sent me to Auburn for my last two years of school. It was truly the best decision I could have made.

Also during that senior year, they knew I would need a car, but couldn’t afford to buy me anything new. We’ve always been a Volkswagen family, so they told me I could have a VW Bug. We started looking, and I fell in love with this orange convertible I saw. But, it was out of our price range, so I was content with this yellow one with a sunroof and cloth seats. But when Dad came driving up with my car, it was the orange convertible. Somehow, they pinched pennies, with a little help from my Grandmother, and I had my dream car.

But when I did leave home, like a lot of kids, I wandered away from God. Mom and Dad knew it, but never let that detract from their love for me. I would come home from Auburn with photos of the long-haired, heavy metal rockers I was hanging out with, and they would grit their teeth and smile. And Mom would write me letters, reminding me that I needed to put God first in my life. At the time, I was kind of irritated, but I love that she never gave up on me, or condemned me. She and Daddy loved me through it all.

And I have given them a lot of those gray hairs on their heads. But no matter what scrape I get into, what crisis befalls me, or whenever I need a loan from the First National Bank of Dad, they have always been there for me. I’m so happy to have them here in Jacksonville. I love having my whole family in one place.

Not having a family of my own, I cling to my Mama and Daddy a lot. I’ve always said the reason I’ve never married is that I want what they have, and that doesn’t happen anymore. But I thank God every day for giving me to the best parents in the world.

Here are a few photos from the day. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Legacy of Love

My parents will celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary this month. That’s right – 50 years. Fifty. Five-O. To put it bluntly, that just don’t happen much these days, so pardon me if I’m a little proud of them.

When I try to describe my parents’ relationship, I usually tell people that they would be perfectly content if they were the only two people on earth. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it is true that they would rather hang out with each other than with anyone else. My brother and I always knew growing up that we were not the center of the universe.  We knew that we were fortunate to be along on their ride. We were the products of their life together – not the purpose of it.

I always loved the story of their meeting. In 1959, Dad was a sophomore at Georgia Southern College, and Mom had transferred there after spending a year at “the Baptist Convent,” otherwise known as Tift College, an all-girls’ school. (What was she thinking?) When she got to Statesboro, her dorm room was not finished being remodeled, so she had to stay for the first month in the school’s infirmary.

The Baptist Student Union was hosting a Fall Welcome Social, and my dad had volunteered to drive all the girls home in the bus. (He was no dummy!) He had noticed this dark-haired, big-eyed girl with the big smile who looked a lot like his favorite actress, Natalie Wood. But how to separate her from the group of girls she was with? He quickly devised a plan. The infirmary was in the middle of the bus route home, but he drove past it. When the girl saw that he missed her stop, she let him know.

“Oops, sorry,” he said. “And the bus doesn’t have a reverse gear, so I’ll just have to take everybody else and come back.” Like I said – no dummy. So he dropped off everyone else, leaving her as the last one on the bus. Opportunity created – opportunity taken.

He also worked in the cafeteria, and every day at lunch, he would save the biggest, prettiest fried chicken breast for her. Funny thing was, she didn’t like white meat. She was a drumstick girl. But she couldn’t fault him for trying. They began spending time together, mostly going to church and BSU functions, as there wasn’t much money for extravagant dates.

The path to true love did have a bump or two. Dad sort of still had a girlfriend from high school, and when Mom found out about that, she put her foot down. He was going home for a weekend, and Mom told him to either end things with her, or she would end things with him. He came back to school on Sunday evening and old girlfriend was no more.

It didn’t take long for them to find they had much in common. Dad was attracted to Mom’s sense of fun, and he liked that “she was a Christian and serious about it.” Mom liked Dad’s sense of humor and the way he made her laugh. Things progressed, and by the start of the next school year, they were both pretty sure they had found the person they wanted to grow old with.

As children of parents who had come through the Great Depression, they both had a wide practical streak. It wasn’t that they didn’t have dreams – they just had a way of assessing the reality of the situation without a lot of fluff. The story of Dad’s proposal lacks a little bit in the romance department, but knowing the two of them, it fits.

Sitting in the coffee shop one night in the fall of 1960, they were discussing the possibility of getting married. Money was tight, so they were trying to figure out how they could make it financially.

“She told me that we couldn’t get married if we didn’t have enough money to tithe,” Dad recalled. “So I got a napkin and started working out all the numbers and figured out how we could make it happen.”

Evidently they found enough money to cover expenses -- and a tithe --and set the wedding date for December 17 of that year. They decided to get married in the break between quarters, making for less than three months of engagement. Why so fast?

Why not?” Mom replied when I asked. “When you know, you know.” She said at least one person in her hometown speculated that there might be a shotgun involved, since it was happening so fast. (If so, that was the longest pregnancy on record – one week shy of four years later, I was born!)

So in a borrowed dress, using the Christmas decorations already in the church, Mom and Dad exchanged vows on December 17, 1960. I’ve always loved looking at their wedding pictures, especially the one where Mom is looking at Dad instead of at the camera. You can see the love on their faces. Fifty years later, they still look at each other that way.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cinderella's Black Eye

Anyone who spends more than about two minutes with me knows that I like college football. To say I like college football is like saying Imelda Marcos likes shoes. (Actually, I like shoes about as much as she does, but that's a topic for another day!) College football is one of my grand passions of life, and most days, I can concentrate on what makes college football so great -- the traditions, the deep family connections, the passionate arguments over rankings and bowl games -- but occasionally the downside of college football  pokes through, and tarnishes everything else.

As an Auburn alumna, I am heartbroken at the allegations surrounding Cam Newton. I'm not naive enough to think that pay-for-play things don't happen in big-time college football, but I just have my doubts about this story. The more that comes out, the more it seems like this scheme to pay Cam's dad for him to go to Mississippi State amounts to nothing more than some conversations about floating some possibilities for some money to change hands. And the characters who are at the heart of these allegations are shady, to say the least. They have a history of this kind of activity, and the fact that these guys blew the whistle tells me they are angry that they didn't get a payoff, now that Cam is set to win the Heisman and the national title. Sounds like revenge and sour grapes to me. Nobody is saying that anyone ever got paid, and seems a moot point since Cam didn't go to MSU. No one has said anything about Auburn being involved in all of this, and if Auburn has known about this story since January, I feel certain that the school investigated it and found nothing to warrant not allowing Cam to come to school at Auburn or play football. I've joked that if I were in Cam's shoes, you'd HAVE to pay me to go to Mississippi State! I've been to Starkville, and it is the most appropriately named town in America. Nice campus, but as someone said, "there's no there there." And their football program is second tier in the SEC.

Seriously, though, Auburn coach Gene Chizik would have to be stupid to knowingly play an ineligible athlete. His contract has a clause in it that states he can be terminated if found that he violated any NCAA rules regarding recruiting. Auburn has been on probation before, and faces serious sanctions if they are caught violating NCAA rules again. Seems to me that by including that clause in Chizik's contract, AU administrators are trying to insure that coaches know they have to toe the line. All the way up to the beginning of this season, Cam was an unknown commodity and Chizik was still trying to win over AU fans who weren't sure he was the man for the job (including me).

I don't want to think ill of Cam's father. He is a pastor of a small church in Newnan, GA, and by all accounts has a sterling reputation. I hope he is exonerated, because as a Christian, I don't want to see another stain on the family of God.

Granted, Cam has had some problems in his past, but who hasn't? The stolen laptop fiasco was not his brightest moment, as he has said. I watched the interview with him about it, and knew what he meant when he said he "never wanted to see that look in (his) mother's eyes ever again." As for the cheating allegations at UF (don't get me started about the swamp's involvement in this), while I never condone cheating, nothing he supposedly did is anything I don't deal with every year with high schoolers. Academic records are supposed to be sealed, and no one has ever said he was expelled from UF (although I can't think of a place I'd rather be expelled from!) Again, if there was a question about his academic eligibility, I'm sure Auburn looked into it and found nothing of concern.

The bottom line is, I think most of this story is just an effort to tear down a kid who has the potential to be one of the greatest to ever play the game I've been around college football most of my life, and I've seen enough of the recruiting game to know that conversations about money are not uncommon. I'm amazed at how quickly so many people are jumping to conclusions, throwing out the "where-there's-smoke-there's-fire" cliche, and assuming that AU has done something wrong. I've heard the haters say that AU ought to bench Cam or even that the NCAA ought to give Auburn's football program the death penalty, all without a shred of real evidence of any wrongdoing, and absolutely none concerning Auburn.

I hate that my alma mater is having to go through this fabulous Cinderella season with a black eye. It was hard in 1993 when we went undefeated and didn't get to play for the title because we were on probation. I was livid in 2004 when we also went undefeated and were denied a spot in the BCS title game because the BCS voters thought  a one-loss Oklahoma team was more worthy of playing USC (and got blown out, by the way). I thought this year that finally, we would get our shot, win the title, see our QB win the Heisman, and all would be right with the world. I just want to go back to the simplicity of waving shakers, yelling "WAR EAGLE!" and rolling Toomer's Corner without all this other mess.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Semi-magnificent obsessions...

I have a strange type of obsessive personality. From time to time, I stumble across some event in history (usually as a result of a movie) and I then set off in pursuit of learning everything I can. In the past, this obsession has led me to become somewhat of an expert on baseball, hockey, the Plains Indians, NASA, and most recently, English history, specifically of the Tudors and Stuarts. I used to camp out at libraries for hours on end, or go to historical spots (don't even ask about all the trips to Cape Canaveral), but the internet has made my obsessions much more accessible. I don't even have to get dressed, much less go to England!

But how is it that 99% of history teachers make history class about as exciting as a root canal? I've often said that if I ever get tired of teaching English, I want to switch and become a history teacher. As it is, I love teaching literature through a historical lens. Novels, poems, and plays aren't created in a vacuum -- they are influced by and reflect what is going on at the time they are being written. Somehow in my education, I never learned much about English history. I knew about King James and his Bible, heard about King George being the target of American revolutionaries, and -- thanks to my antique-loving mother -- knew about Victorian furniture and Queen Anne chairs. But the ins and outs of English history were mostly unknown to me for most of my life.

I think the 1988 movie Elizabeth started this obsession, and continued through others, such as Shakespeare in Love, plus reading books like Phillippa Gregory's. Her novel, The Other Boleyn Girl, was fabulous, and then turned into a terrible movie. (Natalie Portman was a horrendous choice as Anne Boleyn!) Actually going to Scotland only made my obsession worse. I wandered around Edinbugh castle with this open-mouthed goofy grin on my face, hardly believing I was in a place, parts of which were more than a thousand years old. In the US, it seems we consider things old and obsolete within days.

Anyway, one of the many things I love about teaching is that I get to help my students learn how to read literature with an understanding of how literature reveals history and points us toward the future. The theme of my 12th grade British Literature class is that human nature never changes. That's why stories and poems written a thousand years ago still speak to us today. An average kid in urban Florida still has the same hopes and desires as the richest king of England ever did. The politics of Tea Parties and Obamacare have nothing on the plots and subversions of the English court.

Someone much more famous than I (George Santyana, I believe) said that "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Very true, but I would put forth that those who do not learn to appreciate history are doomed to live a shallow life, void of understanding and perspective.

Time to take the plunge

Back in the day when I was a reporter for a living, my favorite part was writing columns. Rather than writing about city council meetings, murder trials, or high school basketball games, I could write about whatever struck my fancy. I've been told by everyone from my mother to my journalism professors that I have a gift for writing, but I haven't really felt the urge to bloviate my opinions in print in a long time. I get to do that live to a captive audience for six hours a day in my classroom!

I've been urged repeatedly to jump into the blogosphere, but I wasn't sure I had much to say. Not that a lack of interesting topics seems to stop a lot of bloggers, mind you! But I do tend to comment on websites and Facebook, so I thought, why not? Why not indulge myself a little and spout of my myriad opinions? Have no idea whether anyone else will care to read them, but we shall see.

Thanks for reading thus far, and here's to having some fun on this ride called life!