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Old 12-23-2011, 11:54 AM   #2637
caterinafmig
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Location: Reisterstown, Maryland
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Christmas Inspiration

Isaiah 9:6 "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."

"W-w-w-hat is this?''

As he tore open the brightly colored paper, the boy's heart dropped. It was flat, so it wasn't a baseball or a glove.

He ran his fingers across the blue vinyl cover, touched the white sheets of paper, slowly bit his lip to keep from crying. This wasn't a Christmas present, it was a school supply. It was a binder filled with blank pages. The boy looked angrily over at the balding man wearing a weary smile and a stray piece of tinsel on his shoulder.

"I-I-I can't play with this," the boy said.

"Yes, you can," the father said.

The awkward, stammering eighth-grader slapped Jackson 5 and "Gilligan's Island" stickers on the binder to at least make it look cool, then tucked it into the bottom drawer next to his plaid shorts and forgot all about it. The next time he saw it was March, three months later, as he headed out to watch a sandlot baseball game.

He had earlier announced to his family that when he grew up, he was going be a sportswriter, using the universal language of bats and balls to connect to a world he couldn't easily touch. On this day, he had finally worked up the courage to practice covering a game.

"Wait," said his father, emerging from the boy's bedroom, holding that dusty blue binder covered in stickers. "If you're going to be a sportswriter, you have to have a notebook."

"Oh y-y-yeah," the boy said. "My n-n-notebook."

And so he toted that binder to the baseball game, to a high school track meet the next day, somewhere new every weekend, wiping the dust off his giant glasses and pulling chewed pencils out of his wrinkled shirt pocket
and filling that binder, reveling in words that worked, shouting in a voice that didn't stammer, adding exclamation points for the drama, Bobby Kleinart hit the heck out of that baseball for a home run off the concession stands for Westport Chevron, boxes of Good N'Plenty went flying, what a play!

Soon the white pages became full, and so more pages were carefully added, more baseballs clearing the fence, more snacks falling out of the sky, words written by a nobody for nobody, words meaning everything, the binder
and the boy growing together. "W-w-what is this?"

The gift sat in the basement, unwrapped, shiny and cluttered and weird. It was an electric typewriter given to a ninth-grader who had no idea how to use it. This wasn't a Christmas present, it was a third-period class.

"I-I-I can't type," the boy said.

"But I can," his mother said. "Bring me your binder."

Its stickers had worn down into bits of shiny strips, and its vinyl was cracked and frayed, but the binder's pages still exhaled the cluttered breath of scribbled observations the Ballard High cross-country team is one tough cookie! His mother opened to his most recent story, turned a switch, started a strange whir, and began pecking.

"W-w-what are you doing?" the boy said.

"Don't you want this in that newspaper?" the mother said.

Oh yeah. That newspaper. It was a neighborhood weekly that needed stories to fill the space between school announcements and mortuary ads. A month earlier, the boy visited their storefront offices, opening his binder, showing the balding old boss his stories, watching him slowly shake his head.

"Your handwriting is terrible," the boss said. "Did you know that newspapers use typewriters?"

He could not begin typing class until the summer, so his mother spent hours every weekend tapping his stories to life. He scribbled, and she typed, word for word, her third full-time job, sometimes falling asleep between paragraphs, but always finishing in time to say, "Great story" and "Let's go."

Then, together, in the middle of every Sunday night, the mother and the boy would ride through the darkened city to that newspaper's storefront, where the boy would slide that week's stories into a mail slot, then rush back to the car for the relieved drive home, the sportswriter and his ghostwriter.

"W-w-hat is this?"

The gift was covered in light blue tissue paper, held together with a frayed red ribbon. The young man opened it carefully, forced a smile, scratched his head. It was a scrapbook. But it was an empty scrapbook. It was two covers of ornate brown leather held together by dozens of empty pieces of gray construction paper. It was silly.

"T-t-his is great, but w-w-hat's going in it?" the young man asked.
"You," his grandmother said.

So for the next seven years, she put him there, filling the scrapbook with everything the young man wrote, for now he was an amateur sportswriter being published in any newspaper that would have him. The grandmother
carefully cut and pasted every volleyball feature, shuffleboard column and flag football game story, everything from the neighborhood weekly, the high school newspaper, and soon even from the tiny college newspaper.

She underlined phrases in her careful handwriting. She drew her own exclamation points after words with more than one syllable. The book grew fat and messy as she grew old and frail.

The young man thought she was saving stories about other people. The grandmother knew better. She knew these would wind up being stories about a young man, chronicling his increased confidence, his diminished stammer, the slow realization of his dream.

"Dad, what was your best gift ever?"

The middle-aged man is sitting with his three children around a Christmas tree. He has been a sportswriter for more than half of his life now, still chasing that dream, still thankful it is a journey he has not taken alone. He looks at his children sitting amid the shiny torn wrapping paper, the kids covered in the solitary pleasures of iPods and Uggs and software programs that do things mothers and electric typewriters could never do.

He wonders if he can ever give them what was given to him. He wonders if they will ever understand. One of them asks him again.

"Dad, what was your best gift ever?"

He looks up at a photo on the mantle. It is a 30-year-old family photograph. It contains the images of the father who still calls every other day to ask what he has in his notebook, the mother who now types him encouragement in e-mails, and the grandmother who died during his first year at one of this country's biggest newspapers.

Before passing, she insisted that he stay on the job and skip her funeral. She insisted he write one more story for that scrapbook.

"Daaad! What was your best gift! C'mon."

He points to the photo.

"They were," he said. - BILL PLASCHKE, Sportswriter LA Times
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Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don't worry; God never blinks.
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