Winner - SCWA April 2017 "Will Write For Food" contest
My First Basketball
Excerpt from Badge of Color / Breaking the Silence
Christmas 1942 was different from previous years. The small brown paper bag with my name on it filled with peppermint candies, an apple and a handful of walnuts, was missing. Mama helped me count the bags to make sure they were all there. My older half-brother Herman, and sisters Cloteal, Gladys, and Lula Mae had bags with their names on them. Oldest half-brother Fred had enlisted in the Army and was gone before Christmas, so he didn’t count. Younger sister and brother, Dorethea and Samuel, had bags with their names printed on them. They didn’t count either, because she was only three and he was a baby.
All things considered, there still should have been seven. Just as Mama pointed out the last bag and before I could protest, Daddy said, “Sunny, close your eyes and turn around.” I turned, eyes wide open, to see Daddy kneeling down in front of me, hands behind his back and a twinkle in his eyes. I heard a soft bounce and saw my first basketball, with Daddy’s help, roll towards me. “Lee, No!” Mama yelped, as my five-pound wire-haired terrier companion pawed the ball. Lee crouched down, looked at the ball, and growled, looked up at me hopefully, tail wagging.
I threw myself into Daddy’s arms and thanked him for the surprise, before scooping up the weathered basketball and shouting, “Lee, come!” The two of us went outside to inspect the ball closer.
It wasn’t perfectly round and the stitching on one end of the cloth panel was coming loose. I could feel the rubber bladder inside, adding to the weight of the ball. But it was mine and it would replace the game of rocks that we threw into the crude peach bucket attached to a shortleaf pine tree.
Tossing the basketball was different from tossing rocks: it was bigger, heavier, and had a different texture. I could throw fifty rocks into the bucket before climbing the ten feet up the tree to drop the rocks onto the ground and start over.
Rain or shine, every available moment a six-year old had, I practiced shooting the ball into the bucket. I stretched my small frame, arms extended, eyes on the bucket, and launched the ball. I practiced throwing with both hands, one hand, hand-over-hand. When I missed, I had to snatch it from Lee, who liked to roll it with his nose. When I made the bucket, I climbed the tree to retrieve it. The pine tree was on a dirt lot next to our house. The ball got muddy when it rained, but I would wipe it off and shoot it again. I was frequently tired from shooting the ball, chasing after Lee and climbing up and down the tree day after day.
One day I fell backwards and landed on my butt, Lee circling and barking. Lula Mae heard the commotion, and came running to my rescue. I wasn’t hurt. I told her what I was trying to do, and she said, “Well, Sunny. I have a fix for that!” She raced to the barn, coming back moments later with a crude saw. She climbed the ladder leaning against the tree and sawed out the bottom of the peach bucket, which fell at our feet. Hands on her hips and with a satisfied smile, she said, “Now you don’t have to climb up that tree for your ball!”
Lula Mae, three years older than I was, began playing basketball with a group of friends in school. She would come home, find me at the peach basket, and say, “Sunny, I’m going to teach you proper.” She would pick up my ball and take me through the correct way to hold it, throw it, and catch it. Sometimes she would bring home a school ball, and we played timed repetitions, to help build my stamina. I thought my nine-year-old sister was the smartest person I knew.
There was no way to know that my first basketball and daily practice would one day lead me to a college scholarship, U.S. All Army Basketball Team where I repeatedly set an all-time individual scoring record in Kirch-Goens, Germany or finally, to becoming the first black police officer hired in Orange County, California for the Santa Ana Police Department.
"The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice.
Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable. They are often wounded, sometimes destroyed."
Tangled & Hooked
As always, I’m pleasantly surprised when I come through the west side entrance’s grassy field, and walk up the stone stairs to view the unexpected oblong, man-made Laguna Lake Park in Fullerton. The park stretches almost a mile around the lake, full of colorful flowers, historic trees, shrubs and succulents, a running stream, wide hard pack trails, and plenty of tables and rest areas with benches.
The 28.5 acre park is a hidden gem within a rustic enclave of trails and shrubs surrounded by many spacious, established homes with picturesque views. Its seclusion makes it a popular oasis for nature-loving walkers, joggers, equestrians, cyclists and fishermen.
Normally I enjoy my walks. Normally, I bask in the tranquility of the area and the beauty of the surrounding nature. Today, I was saddened and disheartened once again. I don’t always see beauty. Sometimes I see pain and suffering resulting from the dangers of fishing line and hooks for birds and other wildlife.
The Pekin duck thrashed about, and toppled over in a frenzy. Her bright orange feet and legs splayed out from underneath her belly. The distressed quack-quack became louder as I and two others quickly approached.
She was tangled in monofilament fishing line, so tightly she couldn’t walk. A fish hook was imbedded in one of her legs. The two ladies grabbed and restrained the normally friendly and intelligent domesticated waterfowl.
I removed the combination knife/scissors/cutting tool I carried. I talked to the duck in soothing tones to calm her. One of the ladies petted her gently. Her series of quacks began to get softer, as I removed the snub-nosed wire cutter from my pocket tool.
The lady in the hat held the duck’s neck, turned her towards me, and commented, “I wonder if the duck is male or female?”
“Well, the male makes a low, raspy sound and sometimes a slight whistling sound. Plus, males have a curl in their tail – and she doesn’t.” I quoted the information from one of the Park Rangers I had spoken with previously.
It took a few minutes, but we got the duck freed from both the fishing line and the hook. We set her upright near the waters’ edge and watched her as she dipped into the water, turned and quietly floated away from us.
My wife joined me at one of the park benches, our dogs in a down-stay at our feet. Each of us entertained private thoughts as we gazed across the placid water, where a variety of Mallards, wood and other domesticated ducks, a Snowy Egret and two American Bittern floated, splashed, and chased one another. Turtles sat on a mound of rocks sunning, their hatchlings now old enough to be in the water. A team of riders from the Equestrian Center made their way along the trail on the opposite side of the lake. The clop-clop of the magnificent creatures echoed across the tranquil water.
“That’s the third duck this week,” I mused. The iconic green head of a Mallard, atop a white neckband that sets off a chestnut-colored chest and gray body, dabbled at vegetation and small particles from the water.
Laguna Lake offers some great local fresh water fishing. Anglers can cast a line for large-mouth bass, rainbow trout, catfish, carp, crappie and bluegill. Free park entrance, parking, and free fishing licenses for age 16 and under draw many a fisherman to the area.
The annual Kids’ Fishing Derby had been held recently.
My stomach twisted as I thought about the bird. “Monday evening my wife and I found an Egret with a fish hook embedded in its throat and bill, and its feet were entangled in fishing line so badly it couldn’t walk. It could only shuffle its feet. It couldn’t close its bill.”
We stood guard over the bird because it couldn’t get away – generally they don’t allow people to come close to them. I could see the dull color of the bird’s eyes, which indicated he was growing weaker. The Park Rangers responded to our call, captured and placed the bird in their vehicle. I wondered about the fate of this beautiful white Egret.
On my way out of the park, I found fishing lures that resembled a shrimp and other food items for the fisherman’s intended target. They could have become an item to kill– or even gotten stuck in the soles of a child’s foot, or the paw of a dog, which could have caused pain, or developed an infection, and be subjected to Tetanus injections.
I picked up the lure, discarded monofilament fishing line with hooks and leads attached, and placed them in one of the many trash cans the Parks and Recreation personnel provide so they can be properly and safely disposed of. I find it sad that with available, convenient containers I still find fishing line and hooks on the ground presenting dangers to birds, wildlife, dogs, horses, other domesticated animals, and people.
Mumbling to myself, I thought, “Is there an excuse for not walking a few feet to get rid of these items in a safe manner?!”
The hissing noise caught my attention. I nearly stepped on the young turtle lying on its back - fully entwined in fishing line, a hook caught in his tiny beak.