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Louisa-Lawrence Co, KY

In God We Trust - Established 2008


January 27, 2018

GROWING UP IN LOUISA: It's a humbling life!

 Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn

When I sit down to write about my past, I tend to write about those things wherein I might be seen in a favorable light. In truth, life and its memories are a series of successes and failures, but who wants to talk about the failures, eh? For me, many times I find that real growth comes from the negative situations. I learn more from my struggles than from things that come easily. In other words, learning may hurt. At my age, the memory banks are loaded with scar tissue enough to make a neurosurgeon happy and wealthy, but surgery isn’t the answer. When it comes to writing this column, I’d rather recall the lessons learned without focusing on their respective costs.

For example, I remember all too clearly the summer baseball leagues I joined that included many of my esteemed classmates. When reading this it is likely that some may smile when they remember my early efforts. Someone had simply given me a catcher’s mitt as a gift. Knowing my mom, it is likely that it was the cheapest of all the gloves/mitts in the store display. So ‘low bid’ was to set my future instead of my discovering where my talent, if any, would be manifested. When it came to catching neither mom or I had the slightest notion of its purpose, or responsibilities.

Therefore, it was simply because I owned a catcher’s mitt and was the only kid fool enough to play that position, that Eddie Boggs, our coach, named me the team’s catcher. Sadly, I wasn’t trained or particularly adept in this position. After all, I had ‘seen’ only a small number of baseball games, whether in person, or by an announcer’s descriptions over the radio. The problem was that there were many things I hadn’t seen or fully understood. Oh, I knew generally that the catcher was to ‘catch the ball’ when it was thrown by the pitcher. I found out the hard way that a good catcher should also understand the intricacies of the game. With experience, Coach Eddie suggested, I would get that understanding, but in the meantime, the transition would be painful for us both.

 I remember the day that I took the field to play a ballgame held in High Bottom at the old fairgrounds. I think this approximates the general area where the new high school is situated. In this first game, I would spend the day learning all kinds of lessons while watching the opposing team’s score steadily rise. For example, I discovered that if I wanted to walk out to the pitcher’s mound to speak with the pitcher, I should ask the umpire to call ‘time.’ If granted, then the ball would be dead meaning that no one on base could advance. In my experience, it wasn’t obvious that catchers would turn to the umpire and ask for time and the ump would raise his hands to show ‘time out,’ so I just didn’t know. I made the mistake of strolling out to the mound only to see the runner who was on third break into a run for the now, unguarded home plate. The other runners advanced at the same time. So the other team scored while I discovered that slow me couldn’t get there in time to tag the runner out. Embarrassing? Sure. It was even more so when I did the same thing twice more. Ouch!

It got worse when I totally missed nearly every pitch. Sure, some were outside, and some were in the dirt, making them difficult to catch. The coach told me it wasn’t my fault, but runners advanced and the score continued to build. I learned that our pitcher might throw the ball over the plate, but that was unpredictable. More batters were walked and then ran freely to the next base on the next passed ball. After a long, painful time my stomach began to hurt. My coach told me that I needed to throw myself in front of the pitch to at least knock it down. I adopted a mentality that each pitch would be uncatchable instead of crouching and supposing it would be over the plate. This shift in thinking allowed me to have enough jump on the pitch to knock down the ball and reduce some of the scoring. Once I learned this trick, I prevented an amazing number of runs, howbeit, too late for this game.

There were many lessons of the same kind. The worst was the snickering of the opposing team and the hanging heads of my teammates. The final score was a loss of seventeen to nothing. Sixteen of those runs were my fault. The other one happened to be a clean hit when bases were loaded. I wished I had not shown up for that game. It was time to quit and hide my shame. I would never play again.

Eddie came to me and said I had to do it again. It may have been the first time I heard the story about remounting a horse when thrown, but the message was delivered. Eddie encouraged me and gave me hope despite of the clear evidence that I was the team’s worst nightmare. After a few days, he talked me into trying again. I gradually got better, but I was never a good catcher. In the end, I could do a decent job behind the plate, but I was far from being the star I dreamed I might be.

People are predictable in that whatever trait one has in one area, it will likely be repeated in others. For example, when visiting my cousins on the farm, I was assigned the simple task of gathering eggs. For them it was a minor, and very routine chore, but for me I it happened that I had to face-off with the meanest, ugliest hen in eastern Kentucky. She allowed me to push my hand under her to touch the recently laid egg, but she soon squawked and pecked away on my sleeveless arm. Ouch! She flapped her wings at me and made more threatening jesters and squawks. It made me wonder if she would attack my face if I didn’t cease and desist in my gathering activities. I decided I would just gather from the other nests and do hers, last. I took note that one or two eggs I found seemed far heavier than others, but I figured I could sort that out later in the safety of the barnyard. (I was told later that these were fake eggs meant to encourage the hens to lay.) Finally, I saw the rude hen leave the henhouse. This was my chance. As I turned and approached the unguarded egg I felt the attack from behind. With wings flapping the mean hen landed on my shoulder and pecked at my head. I ran for my life spilling the eggs I had gathered. At least the fake eggs weren’t broken. Again, I was a failure. I’m not sure what I learned, but my cousins who had been in hiding gave themselves away with laughter. To them I was a ‘town boy,’ roughly equivalent to a city slicker.

I wasn’t one of the more popular guys in high school, at least not with the girls. Besides not being particularly attractive, and being clumsy, naïve, and clueless, I was too honest. I tried to be on the level, thus disclosing any motivations I may have formulated in my mind. For some reason girls found that to be insulting. Go figure. I continued to try and date, seeing a limited few for months at a time, but in the end, we’d agree to be ‘friends.’ I had always heard it was good to have lots of friends, so I went along with the idea. The next evening though, I found myself alone.

Oh well, I could practice my music and maybe something else would come along. It did. Suzie and I have been married forty-two years. She’s the one with the real stories, but I doubt they’d be flattering to my ego, so they won’t be in print. Come to think of it, it would reflect poorly on her, as well, since she’s chosen to hang around me. Brave girl, that one.     

There were several occasions that I rode my bike out on Mayo Trail around ‘dead man’s curve,’ to see two sweet young ladies that lived near the Varney homestead. Sue and Judy Thompson, girls I knew from school, were fun to chat with, but their father kept a close watch to see that my unannounced visits weren’t too long. After all, the girls had chores to do and I was a disruption to the day. At least that’s what I thought, he thought. Now, as an adult, I think it is remotely possible that he just didn’t want them around boys. He need not have worried as I was as naïve as they come and had the best of intentions. I was flattered they’d speak to me, so I tried to enjoy the rare happy event.

Anyway, on one of several trips (likely the last one), I climbed the backyard fence into the pig sty. One of the girls warned me that the sow was not in a friendly mood. I turned just in time to see her point her sixteen tons of muscle and fat toward me, grunting and slobbering as she ran. I got the message. I ran for the fence and for the first time in my life, I jumped and cleared the obstacle. It was good that I didn’t get hung up in the fencing. Both girls, laughing, told me I should be more careful as they reminded me that they had warned me. Shaking all over, I turned my bike back to Louisa and the safety of home.

When I was eighteen, I left Louisa for the Air Force and was stationed in Virginia when a roommate from Louisiana asked me to go with him on leave to visit his parents. He lived in Shreveport, but once we arrived he expressed a desire to drive southeast to Monroe to visit his grandmother. He borrowed his mother’s car and we left on the hot trip. In those days, very few cars had air-conditioning, including this one. Heat and humidity had well settled in. We were both so hot and were wet with perspiration. My friend turned the car south on a dirt road, kicking up dust that built up on us like cakes of mud. The car windows were down so the dust from the road coated us so we looked like Egyptian mummies instead of young men. The road was fairly straight and was beside a bayou that was well-lined with live oak trees heavy with Spanish moss. The water just over the levee was black, as if a dark tea.

 My friend told me that some of what appeared to be logs were, in fact, alligators. My mind raced with the thoughts of being bitten by one of those toothy swamp creatures I had seen in many countless Tarzan movies. We must have driven on this dirt road at least two hours when my friend suggested we stop for a bottle of pop. Just ahead I could see that the road widened. There sat a small building with some gasoline pumps in front. We parked next to the levee, and my friend got out and walked across the road toward the little store. I stretched and looked at the black water, shivering with the thought of being dragged into the swamp for a gator meal.

At the pumps, a farmer was filling his pickup with gasoline. Next to the open front door of the little store, a man was sitting on an upturned milk crate, busy whittling away on a stick. After a moment, I crossed the road and passed by the paneled pickup truck. Suddenly, a cold, wet nose projected through the panels and hit my arm. At the same instant, I heard a loud snort! At the shock of this cold, wet contact and still freshly remembering the alligator stories, I jumped, yelled and ran up the dusty road in the direction we had only just traveled. Here I was, running with my arms flailing, with dust making a cloud, and still screaming. In reaction, the man at the gas pump was startled and dropped the nozzle into the dust. The man who was whittling, overturned his milk carton and fell to the ground. That little one-room store emptied itself of a crowd of men, all looking my direction pointing, at me and laughing.  My friend came out and hollered for me to come back to the store, but I made him back the car to me and pick me up. I didn’t want to face any of these men. I lowered my body below the level of the window as we drove by the store, so not to be seen, but I could still hear laughter. In fact, in my mind I can still hear them, only now I’m laughing, too. I learned not to walk too closely to a paneled truck until I knew what it may carry.        

This article is published on my birthday (1/27) with the idea that the tales pulled from here and there are from my memory. They help explain the mess I have become. Frankly, I have made so many social miscalculations that it would have been a riot to watch. Of course, at the time I wasn’t laughing. It was only through being able to laugh at myself that I became the marvelous, wise, well-adjusted person (sarcasm) I am today. All kidding aside, when my grandchildren ask me what it was like when I was growing up, I tell just them about when I was a pirate. They wouldn’t believe the truth.

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0 #1 Bernard 2018-01-28 20:56
WOW another great article. I too was a catcher. But not to brag, but I was good at it. I caught on the LHS team, played some on the base team while in the Air Force & after that on the independent team in Louisa.
You mentioned visiting Sue & Judy Thompson. I can just hear Rus, their dad getting you to leave. Both girls have become lifelong friends of mine, especially Sue. We were neighbors for a while when we lived in Ollie Short's apartment on Perry St., lots of great memories from those times. Again Thanks for the memories, Great times in Louisa in my younger days.

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