Dancing in his Heart—my Father and Greek Culture

Professor Alexander Nazaryan, http://proof.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/30/the-tipsy-hero/, blogs in the New York Times about  Greek language, culture, literature, and philosophy. http://proof.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/01/30/the-tipsy-hero/ As I read his rich and erudite post, I thought of my father, Floyd Doud Shafer, who as a young man from rural Indiana attended Hanover College back in the 1930’s where he studied Classical languages, Greek and Latin. All of his adult life, well up past 85, he carried around small cards with Greek and Latin verb declensions or lists of adverb and adjective forms or vocabulary lists, which he studied diligently. If I needed a Latin phrase translated, I sent a letter, to which he gladly responded. Sadly, for him, and me, when I attempted Latin as a high school freshman, I hated it. I don’t think he ever forgave me.

At age 86, diagnosed with his final illness, he held my hand and asked me, “How does a philosopher come to die?” Since he had been an ordained Presbyterian minister for over six decades, I was startled momentarily by his question, until I thought about his life-long study of Greek philosophy, philosophers, and language. When the end came, he turned to his greatest love—Greek philosophy. How I wish he had been allowed the Greek tradition of sharing wine with friends. Instead, raised in a Calvinistic home, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calvini, with a mother who was a devout member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WCTU, the pleasure of a draft of beer or a glass of wine with friends, came into his life later, in his middle years.

Mostly, though, I thought about my father’s love of literature, language, and Classical cultures, especially Greece and Rome, and how he passed that love of language and literature along to me and especially to his oldest grandson Jim, now a scholar of Tibetan and Sanskrit, and other Asian languages and cultures. Interestingly, the Doud in my father’s name came from his mother’s family, the Douds being early Puritan emigrants, arriving in the Colony of Connecticut about 1636. Their dour outlook was carried to the Midwest by my father’s grandfather Davis Rogers Doud in 1848 when he pioneered in Illinois with his family. Maybe dour is an unfair term; they were serious and somber, and devout Christians.

My father was a wonderful preacher and writer, filling his sermons and articles with the history of the Reformation, quotes from Shakespeare, and his vast knowledge of the Greek and Roman civilizations and cultures. Well, of course, there was the Christian aspect, too. But, even as a child, I realized his Christianity was broad; he saw the Universe as God’s creation and could not abide the Fundamentalist version of Christianity. His family, founders of the Seventh Day Baptist Church on one line and strong Mennonites on another, with lines of Brethren, along with the Presbyterians, has a fascinating religious history. He carried that with him, impoverished child of the rural Midwestern Depression, studying first at Hanover College, then the Louisville Presbyterian Seminary, and the Union Seminary in NYC. Through all those years of rather grim Christianity, his love of the Greeks and their culture danced in his heart. And, at the end, he chose to die with their philosophy as his guide.

Stimulus Package

I see that the Republicans in the House voted, as a block, against the Stimulus Bill. What a bunch of slime balls. They call for “across the aisle” rapport and bipartisanship when they are in control, but fail to deliver when they are the minority. How I wish the voters had swept them all out and literally cleaned House. Will the Democrats ever learn??

Basketball ruined my life??…well…..not really

In my last post, I came down pretty hard on professional athletes, a group
for whom I have no particular dislike, I just didn’t want my sons to be one
of them. Jim told me at age nine that he was going to be a university professor–and that was the dream I wanted to hold. Jim was a gifted student with at an early age, 18 months, pronounced love of books and reading. His brother Dan had an early love of business, a toy cash register being a favorite toy.

I had an early and pronounced dislike of anything athletic—so, of course,
I had two athletic sons and eventually married a football player/high
school coach, who had become a high school principal. And attended
endless athletic events and spent several years in weekly/daily phone
calls with recruiting coaches…..blah.

Now that the athletic part of my life is over—and behind me by
20 years—I hope to finally face the devils in my memories.

As a child, I hated activity games and competition–dodge ball, soft ball, even red-rover. While the other children were playing games, I was always wandering around the edge of the playground, lost in my imaginary scenarios [See Calvin & Hobbs]. In junior high I was on a volleyball team…..and a complete dud. I never ever tried out for any teams in high school, though I fostered a secret dream to be a majorette and strut down the football field. But, I could not play a musical instrument and probably could not have marched in time anyway.

So, I had a son who early on loved sports, one of his first words being “ball.” He loved to compete. We would not allow him or his brother to play little league baseball, due to the behavior of the parents, which appalled me—a mistake on our parts. Finally we relented and let the boys play little league football, with me in the stands in terror of injuries. Jim, a wonderful runner, was a terrific end, scoring often. Dan did not like being shoved around by the other kids or getting his clothing dirty. In sixth grade, Jim went out for basketball, having spent several previous years shooting baskets in any available hoop. We were the kind of parents who reluctantly, finally put up a basketball goal on the garage roof after realizing that our kid was really good at basketball. We did not put up a goal early and encourage him to shoot. He showed he loved to shoot, so we dragged ourselves along. We gave him so little advance help that I always wondered what would have happened if we the parents had set the goals instead of Jim.

Jim’s whole basketball career was like that. He set the goals and dreamed the dreams—and his parents kind of grumbled along behind him, trying not to thwart him. We were not pushy sports parents. In fact, when Jim was a high school freshman and it was obvious that he was going to play varsity, I begged the coach to not play him for a semester. The week before the season started, the athletic director came to me and said, “Jeanne, Jim is going to play Varsity.” My heart sank and I requested that he not start at first. So, he was the first sub in at the first game of the year and for several games, until the coach told me, “Sorry, he’s earned the right to start.” In his first game, the score was close at the end and the opposing coach kept shouting, “Foul the freshman!” Jim marched up to the free throw line three times, each time scoring twice, and we won the game. I was amazed at how cool he was—-and quit pestering the coach to keep him on the bench.

Jim was poetry in motion on the basketball court and he loved the game with a pure and whole-hearted devotion. He seemed oblivious to the spite and grumbles around him, wanting everyone to love the sport as he did—and dedicate the time he did. The summer between his freshman and sophomore years, he shot 10,000 free throws. His step-father-to-be, Max, the high school principal, would often go into the gym and retrieve balls for him. Of course, the other players were not that devoted. And, I finally had to put my foot down at Jim’s intensity—no more than six hours in the gym practicing, a day—and then he had to go do some other activity, such
as ride his bike around town or go fishing or do something besides basketball. As one of the coaches pointed out, he was about a half-step short, which eventually led to the end of his career. Not being quite fast enough is a killer in college basketball, though he did okay in high school. Jim was a wonderful shooter, with a graceful left hook. He set the school scoring record, which he still holds, and was on the top-ten in the state free-throw list his senior year, week after week. He set 26 school records in all and was named an Indiana All-Star.

I didn’t love basketball and spent a couple of years when Jim was in middle school being coached in the techniques of the game by the high school athletic director, my friend Paul Scifres. I was so proud when, finally, after months of trying, I could discern a “moving pick.” “Picking corn”—I never did figure that out. I loved to watch Jim play, though I cringed at every mistake and was wounded at every nasty remark from the crowd. It took all my courage to endure it. Odd to think how horrible it was for me when so many parents would truly enjoy having a child who was a gifted athlete.

Dan, who was not as athletic as Jim, preferred sports like golf. His skill in managing developed in middle school and he was a manager for football and for basketball all four years of high school. In his freshman year at IU, he was a student manager for the Men’s Varsity Basketball team, under the direction of Coach Bob Knight. Dan’s business skills were obvious and useful, early on in his life. Of course, I went to the games to watch him “manage,” a tradition of support in my family. When he was at IU, I was delighted to watch him on TV, rushing out to wipe a spill on the floor or handing a towel to a player. Reliability, another skill recognized early, caused him to be often sent on road trips to film and later edit games of opponents. It was time consuming tasks like that which led him to give up being a team manager after his freshman year.

Both of my sons eventually learned that sports can consume one’s life and that there might be other interesting things in the world to do. Athletics, starting in Jim’s sixth grade and proceeding through college, took 10 years of my life. I learned a lot of lessons about life and people, but I never stopped wishing that my sons were competing in the world of ballet or opera. They scoffed at such silly ideas, so I endured athletics as best I could, but I never found it an ennobling experience. It was something I endured because I loved them, but those were dark and hard years in my life.

Dressing “right”—Michelle and her girls…

Michelle’s Inauguration dress was lovely! She looked stately, stylish, young, lively, and beautiful—all combined. I enjoyed the girl’s dresses, too—lovely colors and sooooooo appropriate, none of that dreadful Hannah Montana, Madonna, slut look clothing that far too many parents let their daughters wear. The other stand-out was Aretha Franklin’s hat—-awesome!! I loved it!!  I am so hopeful that the lovely clothing styles favored by stylish Black women will begin to prevail. The clothing at Coretta Scott King’s funeral was amazing—color, drama, vibrancy—those women know how to dress! And, the hats were awesome, too. Surely as we bring together the many subcultures within this country, all the segments of the people of Color [is that politically correct??? can we be done with political correctness???], then the lovely clothing colors, fabrics, and styles of Spanish, Asian, Black, African, etc., can become the fashion.  My goodness….we might even get rid of suits and ties, panty hose, stiletto heels, and other horrors. And basic black…..ugh….so “correct” and so dreary.  Let color flow….beautiful, vibrant color!!!