Sunday, February 03, 2013

An NFL Experience

Stoked, that's what they were.

My boys, bound for the NFL Experience, part of Super Bowl XLVII, had only one thing on  their minds: Meeting Cam Newton.

Granted, going to the pricey event may not have been the smartest decision, given my protracted joblessness. We dropped close to a $100 before we even entered the  Convention Center on tickets and parking. But sometimes, parents rationalize, there are once-in-a-lifetime experiences. The Super Bowl may never be this close to the boys again.

Little folks need those signature moments. Life as an adult is hard, so kids need joy when it can be had.

So we went.

The kids wanted to meet their hero, and they dressed for the occasion, Tucker in his Carolina Panthers Newton jersey, Griffin in an orange Auburn hat.

We were not prepared for what was to come. A sea of thousands wanted the NFL Experience. Once inside, we waited briefly in a  line several hundred deep to see the former Auburn Tiger and NFL star. It looked hopeless.

So the boys and I went to interactive exhibits, where they were timed in the 40 and tested their passing skills.

Then we hit Cam's next appearance, for a sports apparel company. The crowd was of the Cecil B. DeMille Red Sea variety. Folks wearing yellow wristbands were on line. I asked a staffer where to get the bands.

"They're gone. We've been out of them for an hour."

Then, a Super Bowl miracle.

A kind stranger with red hair and glasses tapped me on the shoulder.
"See the guy under the Under Armor sign?," the man asked, pointing to a man in a brown suit. "He's with Cam's agent. Talk to him."

I had nothing to lose.

I went to the man with my story: That I was an Auburn graduate, a former football manager for the Tigers. That my boys wanted to meet only one celebrity at the NFL Experience, Cam Newton.

The rep didn't pause.

"Come on," he said.

The crowd parted. We went right to the quarterback, faster than you can say blitz. The rep whispered in his ear, and before you knew it, Tucker, Griffin and Cam were hitting it off. He signed Tucker's jersey and Griff's hat.

Newton gave time he did not have to little guys for whom a few minutes with their favorite NFL player would be priceless.

 We talked about mutual friends in the athletic department, shook hands and our day was made.

Like I said, stoked.

But there was more.

Three San Francisco 49er fans approached us minutes later, two men and a woman.

"Are you a Cam Newton fan?," the man asked. Tucker nodded.

"I have two signed things from him, a ticket to this and a football. I want you to have this."

He handed Tucker the treasured ducat.

 Beyond the ticket, there was backstory. The woman in the group, dressed in a Niners' jersey, and a San Fran cowboy hat. Under the hat, the woman wore a red bandanna. Chemotherapy and cancer had clearly been a storyline in this lady's life.

Still, her smile never left her glowing face.

There was another blessing. In the crowd and clamor, after five hours on my feet, I began to feel lightheaded, dizzy and like life had gone into slow motion. My hips and knees throbbed.

A paramedic named Mrs. Thomas came to help, until I felt better. Then, a security officer, despite a supervisor yelling the word "liability" at him, gave us a ride to our car, which was in a lot blocks away.

All of this gave pause. As a society, we've cheapened the word hero, tossing it around like politicians do promises.

Cam Newton is a hero, not because of what he does on the field, but because of his kindness to my boys. So too, were the man in the brown suit and a red-headed stranger who made the seemingly impossible come to pass.

In a world of tragedy in Newtown, Conn. and Midland, Ala., anyone who gives joy to children is truly a hero.

The same goes for the Niner fans, who showed that generosity is not dead. Of course, in this hard season of our lives, many have shown that time and again. So too, for Mrs. Thomas and the kind security officer.

Then there was the woman in the hat and bandanna. The cancer veteran. If she is not a hero, then there are none.

Numerous times after these events, the boys said the words every parent longs to hear:

"Thank you for taking us, Dad. This is the best day ever. Better than Disney World."

Today, it is the best day ever because of autographs and football heroes.

I hope that in 20 years, long after the signatures fade, their memories of this day will be of kindness.

Priceless kindness.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

The Projectionist

One of the joys of newspapering in a small town is the chance to chronicle the lives of people unknown to the wider world who are heroes to their neighbors and friends.
H.A. Creef, who died last week in Manteo, was truly a hometown hero.
Mr. Creef and his wife Liz owned Manteo's historic Pioneer Theatre, where  films entertained generations of Outer Bankers since 1912, one of the nation's oldest family-run movie houses.
The theater, as well as Mr. Creef and his wife, also served as Manteo's babysitter on Friday nights.
At the Pioneer, where seats sold for $4, buttery hot popcorn, cold cokes and sweet candies  for 50 cents each, parents could savor a priceless night on the town without a worry in the world about what their kids' little eyes  and ears would see or hear.
"Magic Mike" would never play the Pioneer. For Mr. Creef, right and wrong were not 50 shades of gray, but black and white.
You see, Mr. Creef had rules at the Pioneer. No movies with a racier rating than PG ever saw his projector reels. Kids were expected to behave. And they did.
Movies enjoyed one week runs. In my time on the Outer Banks, only "Forrest Gump" got a longer showing.
My favorite Pioneer memory swirls around "The Perfect Storm," the drama with George Clooney. Commercial fishing and wicked weather, as much a part of life in Manteo as  softshell crabs and the summer drama, "The Lost Colony," were the real stars of the film. On a chilly Saturday night, my mom, sister and I hit the theater.
My sister Marty, accustomed to bloated ticket prices at Atlanta theaters, whipped out two $20 bills to pay for our tickets.
"I just need one of those," Mrs. Creef said, taking one of the  Jacksons from her. Marty was stunned.
She got another shock when we hit the concession stand. The last Atlantan to enjoy 50-cent popcorn was probably Margaret Mitchell.
Once inside, we squeezed into seats on a crowded row. Fisherrmen, some clad in coveralls, others in jeans, flannel shirts and white fishing boots (known locally as Wanchese bedroom slippers, or Wanchese wing tips for the centuries-old fishing village on Roanoke Island) were bringing their wives and girlfriends to see the movie.
Some had come straight off the boat.It was like seeing "A Perfect Storm" in Smell-O Vision.
My out-of-town visitors gave the night an aromatic five stars.
The biggest night in the history of the theater was a showing of "A Face in the Crowd," back in 1957, featuring an in-person appearance by the movie's star, new Roanoke Island resident Andy Griffith.
It is ironic that Creef passed away three days after Griffith. Manteo lost its silver screen star and  its projectionist in the same week
While the joy Andy brought to the world is well known, not many outside Manteo know about Mr. Creef. He served in town government, coached youth baseball and was active in his church. He owned a local motel.
What many don't know is that he would sometimes give free showings of popular kids films to local schoolchildren, opening for midweek matinees. "Toy Story" was featured once.
"A lot of these kids' families don't have money to come or to send them," Mr. Creef said once. "Every child ought to have experiences like that."
Like I said, Mr. Creef, Manteo's projectionist extraordinaire, was a hometown hero. While it's not theological, my guess is that if Heaven has a marquee, Mr. Creef, The Projectionist--  has seen his name up in lights.

Paul South is a veteran reporter, columnist and editor who has worked at newspapers in North Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky and Louisiana. His blog, "Out on the Porch", will appear weekly.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Andy of Manteo and Me

News came this morning that Andy Griffith, the beloved sheriff of  TV's Mayberry passed away at his home on beautiful Roanoke Island, N.C.
He was 86.
 Griffith was best known to the world as Andy Taylor or Ben Matlock on television, or as Larry "Lonesome" Rhodes, the role for which Griffith earned an Oscar nomination in Elia Kazan's "Face in the Crowd."
But when I lived on Roanoke Island, a place where every year-round resident is considered a neighbor, Mr. Griffith was mine.
Do not misunderstand. We were not friends, only what I would consider a good acquaintance, despite only having met a half-dozen times or so across nearly a decade on the island.
The first time we met, I was slowly negotiating a steep flight of stairs when Griffith entered the doorway, and started up the way.
"Excuse me, Mr. Griffith," I said. He stopped.
"Take your time," he said.
I finally made it to the bottom of the stairs.
"Mr. Griffith, I don't mean to trouble you," I said. "But I'm Paul South. I've always wanted to meet you, especially since I've lived here."
"I know who you are," he said, smiling. "I read your columns and stories in the paper. And you live in that apartment right over there."
"How do you know where I live?" I asked.
"I know lots of things," he said smiling. "You never know, I might come visit my neighbor sometime."
Mr. Griffith did know lots of things. From 1960 until the series ended, Griffith showed us through "The Andy Griffith Show" that  he knew a lot about small towns, about simple pleasures and strong values.
In Mayberry, folks went to church. They found happiness in long talks, short bottles of pop, fishing in the lake and sleeping on the ironing board. They forgave transgressions. They loved God and their neighbors, even the folks on the margins. Ask Ernest T. Bass. And Andy, it seemed, set the standard for it all.
Mayberry also taught us how the problems of the world could vanish on a big front porch, after a fried chicken dinner and a chorus of "The Little Brown Church in the Vale."
In one of the most interesting takes I've ever heard on life in Mayberry, a former student worker in the media relations office during my time at Samford, wrote a paper for a New Testament class, comparing the relationship between Andy and Barney to that of Jesus and St. Peter. Peter, like Barney, was always getting into trouble, and Jesus, like Andy, always bailed out his friend.
So it is with us.
Andy Griffith as "Lonesome" Rhodes taught us the dangers of a demogogue. "A Face in the Crowd" packed a powerful punch in the days of Tailgunner Joe McCarthy and George Corley Wallace. It is one of the great American cinematic performances. And in this political season, Griffith's work on the film deserves a deep, thoughtful viewing.
And it should be noted that Mr. Griffith also won a Grammy for a Southern Gospel album, celebrating the great old hymns. Talk to his fellow congregants at Mount Olivet United Methodist, and they'll tell you that Mr. Griffith believed the words he sang.
But that is the private Andy Griffith, the one who loved his home on the island, who loved browsing at the local Ace Hardware and at the local bookstore. In Manteo, he was not a star, but a friend.
The newscasters today will talk about his support for President Obama's health reform plan. But perhaps more important was quiet, yet vigorous effort to keep the big box retailer Wal-Mart, off the island. I sat next to Griffith and his wife Cindi at the public hearing and vote. His presence, I believe, made a difference. The big-box developers lost a narrow vote.
He was not an actor that night. For the great people of Roanoke Island, he was a neighbor and friend.
Like the sheriff without a gun, Andy won with grace. The beach towns near Manteo gave in to the Starbucks. Harris Teeters and Wal-Marts of America and home-owned stores were sacrificed. Roanoke Island did not cave, thanks in part to Andy's trusted voice.
Principle and people won over profit, life imitating Mayberry art.
After our first encounter, Andy Griffith never visited his neighbor in the apartment. But a couple of years later, he gave me a precious memory that will linger for the rest of my days.
It was December, 2001. Manteo was chilly, gleaming like an elegant socialite in the glow of the Christmas season. There was a new baby in our house.Tucker was 3 months old.
As often happened in those wonderful days, I ran into Mr. Griffith near Manteo Booksellers, a local treasure lost to murderous Hurricane Irene.
"I hear we have a new baby," he said.
"Yes sir," I said. "A little boy."
"Do you have a picture?," Griffith asked.
I immediately produced an image of little Tucker, resplendent in scarlet velvet Christmas overalls.
In a flash, Andy Griffith's unforgettable grin washed over his face.
"Awwwwww, that is the prettiest ba-beeeee."
In that moment, I was in front of Floyd's Barber Shop.
And Andy Griffith was my friend.
Rest well my neighbor and friend. We will miss you.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Limbaugh and Buckley's curriculum of essentials

Fellow conservatives, light  a candle.
Wear black.
Don sackcloth and ashes.
Even give up sweet tea.

There is reason for mourning, especially if we allow the Rush Limbaughs of the world to serve as beacons of conservative thought and discussion.
 I am not a regular listener to "The Round Mound of Dumb-Down," unlike the legions of "Ditto-Heads" who hang on every word  bellowed from his jowls. But the few times I have tuned in, I found most of his followers sopped up every speck from the plate, leaving the impression that they are unable to think on their own.
And now Limbaugh has stooped so low as to trash a law student at Georgetown University, because she dared take issue with his views on the Obama Administration's efforts to mandate that organizations --including churches --who provide health insurance for employees, must include coverage for birth control.
To be clear, the Obama Administration is wrong, dead wrong, on this. To paraphrase Jefferson, government should never, ever be allowed to govern matters of conscience. Cardinal Timothy Dolan rightly believes that there is a war going on against people of faith; the Administration's policy is a booming salvo in that war.
But the conservative movement in America has a huge problem, because we've mistaken volume for intelligence, e.g., Mr. Limbaugh. Moreover, conservatives spend too much time listening to Limbaugh and too little reading William F. Buckley, Russell Kirk, George Will and Cal Thomas: All bright, all thoughtful, who care more about the good of the Republic than their own egos and pocketbooks.
And as a result, the Republican Party is in danger of losing a golden chance to retake the White House in 2012.
Author Sam Tanenhaus,editor of The New York Times Book Review, said of Buckley in the Times," I never heard him make a personally disparaging remark about anyone, even adversaries like Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and Gore Vidal. He might describe something they did or the style in which they did it, but never in an insulting or even critical way. He had a large sense of the human comedy."
There is a deep intelligence in  Buckley's sense of human comedy.
 By contrast, Limbaugh, who said he was attempting humor in his vicious attack on a bright young woman, is a clown, whose arrogance will not allow him to respect views different from his own.

In developing the true conservative mind and a happy life, Buckley offered this recipe:
"You cultivate the essential virtues: high purpose, intelligence, decency, humility, fear of the Lord, and  the passion for freedom."
Limbaugh claims to have a passion for freedom. That may be.
But as for the rest of Buckley's curriculum of "essential virtues," virtues we would all do well to learn and adopt, Rush Limbaugh fails miserably.
Rush should move to the back of the class, and off the air.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Reconsidering Bill Clinton and The Third Way

In recent days, PBS aired another installment of its captivating series, "American Experience," exploring the life and presidency of William Jefferson Clinton.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I am an evangelical conservative. And according to the unwritten political rules of this worldview --at least according to some -- the very mention of the nation's 42nd president must ignite a firestorm of hatred.
After all, remember the noms de guerre his political enemies pinned on the man from Hope.
Slick Willie.
Bill Clinton was a sinner, as are we all.
And as the only true rules of evangelical conservatism -- the code found in the Bible --remind us, repentance deserves forgiveness. Only God knows the heart of Bill Clinton.
That said, I miss President Clinton.
Don't misunderstand. No one misses deliberate falsehood. No one misses seeing a family's public pain over marital infidelity,or the national nightmare of impeachment. No one misses "It depends on what your definition of is is."
What I miss about Clinton in this nightmare of a political season is the willingness to find a Third Way of governance.
Clinton masterfully steered a middle course between liberal and conservative, leaving the nation with a budget surplus, a precious memory in these days of unsustainable deficits.
An economic boom, unprecedented in the post-war period, created jobs and expanded the middle class. It's an arguable presumption, but given the cyclical nature of economics, policies of previous administrations may have also helped trigger the boom. That, however, is an issue for another time.
And, a Republican House and Senate created a perfect climate for compromise. Statesmen and women in the Congress --like the Kansan Bob Dole --saw the need for compromise. As a result, meaningful change occurred --budgetary responsibility, welfare reform, jobs.
(As one of the unemployed --with two degrees and 25 years of experience in my pocket-- it's little wonder that the mid-90s bring a warm fuzzy feeling).
But what I miss most about Bill Clinton is his compassion for people. Bill Clinton, "The Comeback Kid," is the finest politician of his generation, simply because he cared about people. He had "The Gift," the ability to make individuals from all walks of life feel they were the most important people in the room.
During a Q and A in a country store in New Hampshire in 1992, a woman began to weep as she shared her struggles to pay for  groceries and medicine.
Clinton stepped from the makeshift podium and embraced her, tears in his eyes. Clinton didn't talk. He listened.
In 2005, Clinton and his predecessor and one time political opponent George H.W. Bush, visited Grand Bay, Ala., in the days after Hurricane Katrina. On this day, two men well-acquainted with the power and opulence of the Oval Office, occupied folding chairs and listened as one by one, everyday people told their stories. Millions of similar tragic tales drowned the Gulf Coast from Alabama to New Orleans.
Bush, the elder, had been hardened by war. Clinton softened by battles in a broken home.
Both men asked  simple questions that no one else from the Beltway bothered or cared to ask:
What do you need?
How can we help?
 On that day in Grand Bay, as with the woman in 1992 New Hampshire, there were hugs and tears and heart and listening.
Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush get it.
Barack Obama, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich don't get it. Though because he was there, Gingrich should understand the power of the middle way, but has political amnesia. The current field of candidates possesses a flawed civic religion, empty of heart and deeply in love with the sound of its own voice. There is in the current field a distant arrogance that despite all good intention,doesn't really care about families and children and the elderly. They care about power and pandering to "the base."
The Comeback Kid is white-haired and gaunt these days, busy at doing what former presidents do. This country, sadly, does a disservice to its former chief executives, and its people, by not drawing from the wisdom forged in the world's loneliest office.
We could stand a kind word and a hug, and more than a few ideas from The Comeback Kid.
Kid,come back.
 We need a refresher on the Third Way and how to come back as a people.
A hug and a listening ear wouldn't hurt.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Welcome to My Porch

Growing up in Alabama, one of my family's annual rituals was to travel to Fayette County for "Decoration Day," the annual May sojourn to the Oswalt family graveyard to adorn the final mortal resting places of those gone before.
There was preaching, singing and eating and much "Bless your heart."
But it must be said that all was not warm and fuzzy.
It was a true miracle that no one died of food poisoning from eating potato salad  that had been left to marinate in the scorching late spring sun. And it was also a great wonder that no one suffered toxic shock from overexposure to Aqua Net ( the official hairspray of the Southern Baptist Convention).
God be praised.
But the best part of Decoration Day was traveling to my Aunt Addie and Uncle Bill's house for a healthy dose of what Addie called, "Davis Creek culture."
There, my great aunts and uncles and cousins from the South side of the family tree hugged and laughed and ate.
Then the women adjourned to the kitchen, the men to the porch. I knew life had changed when I was welcomed to the porch. Football was talked here and politics and food and current events. And there was remembering, of old politicians and of "The War,"  of gridiron greatness and the news of the day.
The men spoke of times-- glorious days  before PACs and consultants and Chris Matthews and Ann Coulter-- when candidates needed only a few tools to campaign. A flatbed truck, a bluegrass band, a firm handshake and a strong stump speech,  along with the courage of conviction to look a fellow in the eye and ask for his vote, was enough.
The time always dried up before the conversation. Then there was more hugging, more sweetness, and another small bite to eat before hitting the road home. The aroma of coffee and hydrangeas hung in the air.
It is in the spirit of Bill and Addie's porch that this blog launches. All are welcome here to talk football and faith and politics and family and news of the day. The only rule here is the Golden one: Treat others as you would wish to be --with civility, respect and kindness.
This porch, I hope, will be as I imagine Atticus Finch's would be: Open to all, save the Bob Ewells of the world. There is no place for them here.
I hope you find this humble effort worthy of your time. Pull up a chair and visit a while.