A very weird thing happened on the way to finding the funeral arrangements for one of my late mother’s best friends and the mom of one of my high school classmates.
First of all, know this. My dad and three of his first cousins played on a basketball team that qualified for the single class state tournament in 1943. My dad was always honest in telling us he was the sixth man on a five-man team. But he did experience the state tournament with his cousins and four other best childhood buddies.
His first cousin Rex, a star on the team that lost in the first round to what many consider one of Iowa’s greatest basketball teams ever (Mason City), became the team’s historians and recounted the glory of that 1943 team at every family gathering and school reunion. My dad got a little tired of it, since half the guys served overseas in the Army, Navy or Marines, his cousin, Fred died from wounds and exposure as a POW after being captured in the Battle of the Bulge and there were guys on the team who actually did significant things after high school and the war.
But I always loved the stories and have all of them tucked away in my memory. I also have the official photograph of the team and can name every player (partly because they were dads of kids I grew up with and partly because Dad’s teammates visited the farm often over the years).
So I’m searching for this obituary and come upon two other obits, one my late father’s very good lifelong friend, and the seventh man on that five-man team. In it he mentions his graduation year of 1943 and being a member of that most famous team.
Then I came upon another obituary, another man I knew well and worked for occasionally building fence on his small acreage. In this really long obituary, it mentioned he graduated in 1942 before entering the Army and played on the “state championship team.”
My first thought was, “Geez, I hope Rex doesn’t see this because his heart would stop.” The second was, what tales we weave to our children and grandchildren. It’s actually a great story, except that it isn’t true, and was published in a newspaper and on a funeral home web site as historic truth.
I’d never in a million years say anything to any of his kids or grandkids, but as a guardian of history through the publication of obituaries in the newspapers I manage, it makes me wonder how much stuff I’ve published that strains credulity. It’s difficult because my brother, two years older than I, sometimes have different takes on circumstances we both observed together. From birth we’re equipped with different colored lenses that we view the world through. On the rare occasion my wife watches football with me, she will cringe at the very same time I am shouting, “That was a great hit.” When my yellow lab breaks out of the mud room and into the living room, I will scratch his ears and tell what a good boy he is as my wife fetches the broom.
I dig up a high school picture of her as a homecoming queen runner-up and say, “Wow!” She says, “Ick. I don’t know why I was even in the court.” When I gather with my high school football teammates, I remember the times I was clocked by an opponent. My offensive backfield teammates remember running through holes I opened with successful blocks.
My father viewed his 18 months on a minesweeper in the Pacific at the end of WWII as completely safe and unremarkable. In hearing his stories late in his life and reading the history of the mine-sweeper/destroyer in and out of combat, I’m amazed he got home in one piece.
So there is that. Different people viewing the same event differently. It’s why there are four Gospels to study and compare.
It’s when you forget stuff like the year you graduated ahead of the team that made it to state or turning a first round loser in state into that year’s champion that gets a little sticky in terms of the recording of history.
It may sound a bit morbid, but I enjoy reading well-written obituaries. It makes me feel a part of the human race to have someone recount another person’s life with fondness, even though you know the dearly departed really didn’t live up to the post mortem allocades.
And I guess it’s not so bad to buy into myths. Right up to the time you run into the scribe or historian who has written down names and dates and still carries around the scorebooks.
As many high school wrestling meets and state wrestling tournaments I have attended in my 40+ year newspaper career, Saturday was a first for me, attending my first little kid wrestling tournament. My grandson, a six-year-old who is in his third year of little kid wrestling but sat out most of his second year with an upper thigh injury, tried his hand at competition for the first time.
The fact that his first match was against a little kid who I’m pretty sure is destined for the Iowa Hawkeyes not withstanding, he had fun and improved in all three of his matches. In his second loss of the day, he popped off the mat and said, “Did I win?”
“Nope,” I said as his matside coach. “But you did good.”
“Okay,” he said, spotting a buddy and running over to give him a bear hug.
For the most part there were cheering parents and little kids at all levels of skill and temperment enjoying the day.
But there were a few, both parents in the stands and coaching matside and kids on the mat that made me wonder. The built-in pressure of wrestling and the intense personal connection to going up against a single opponent alone on the mat is enough to keep most little kids away from the sport. Add in the pressure of clueless parents wanting their eight-year-old to pin every kid he faces or somehow have laser focus on each match can create a toxic back drop to an absolutely wonderful sport.
Note to parents and little kid wrestling coaches: When you see a little guy crying, throwing his headgear and stomping off the mat inconsolable, you might want to consider the fact that he may not be ready for tournament competition. And if as a parent you feel the need to edge very close to child abuse in yelling at your son following a loss, you might want to stay home.
There are coaches and parents who will treat both your son and the sport with the dignity it deserves.
DEBBIE JUDGE brought me a huge, 1872 Bible she and her husband, Rick, found while remodeling an old house. It was really roached but extremely interesting. What might be most interesting is a piece of cloth used as a book mark with the stamped lettering “A-O-U-W” which I found to stand for “Ancient Order of United Workman,” a very early fraternal organization that provided insurance and some lobbying support for “white” working men.
The organization started in 1868 and was around until around 1926 as an insurance company, but it was really one of the earliest efforts to organize workers, although you don’t find the word “union” in its historical information.
The owner of the Bible was a guy named Holland who came from Mount Union, Iowa and moved to Williams, somehow winding up (at least his Bible) in Albia.
It was a pretty cool find with far more questions than answers.