Thursday, July 22, 2010

Little Friend

My best friend in third grade, Linda Goldstein, was different from my other best friends in third grade. She wasn’t tall, blond, and thin. She wasn’t Lutheran or Methodist.

Most of all, she wasn’t athletic. But she tried -- really really hard.

Linda signed up for gymnastics when we all signed up for gymnastics. And running, and tennis. When she took up tennis because we took up tennis, she tried to break her racquet just the way I did when I lost a match. Linda could have broken lots of racquets because she lost every match, but she could never crack the frame.

When we all joined a softball league, so did Linda. It looked like her permanent position would be somewhere on the bench. But then her dad stepped in. He became our team’s coach. And suddenly Linda rose from bench warmer to pitcher.

Mr. Goldstein must have worked with her day and night, because eventually she was able to throw a slow looping ball to the batter. Of course, it fell right into the batter’s sweet spot, but by god, it made it to the plate.

I don’t recall that any of us resented her unprecedented rise in rank. I think we were happy for her. I for one wasn’t competitive when it came to team sports anyway. I didn’t even care if I won a doubles match. I reserved all my blood-thirsty ways for the individual sports.

But when it came to Linda, I do remember thinking, how sad that you can want something so badly, try so hard, practice so long, and yet never get close to your dream.

Welcome to my kitchen.

And here I planned to go into a rant about my failure as a cook. Not failures, utter failure. But I’m so enchanted by my memories of Linda, I’m going to let that go.

As little girls, my friends and I weren’t touchy feely. We didn’t hold hands. And even if we had wanted to, Linda and I couldn’t, because I was so much taller. But when Linda and I walked to her house after school, and she lived three hills up from my house, in a more expensive area; when we walked to her house, she’d stretch her hand up to clutch my shoulder, and there it would rest, the whole way.

And I remember thinking, if someone tried to bully Linda, because every school has bullies, especially in the earlier grades, they’d have to answer to me.

32 comments:

  1. Sweet story. Do you know what became of Linda?

    And that's why we keep such careful track of the likes of Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax, Sid Luckman, Shawn Green, and Jordan Farmar.

    (I never wanted to break a tennis racquet, I was never good enough to have a reason until much later, but it would never occur to me that I actually could!)

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  2. Excuse me, but I've go to go, I'm a little teary eyed right now...

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  3. Oh KB,
    What you don't know about me is that the last few years of my teaching career, I poured my heart and soul into our Character Ed program and before I was history, we were the first school in Alabama to be selected as a National School of Character. NO bullying and treating each and every student with respect was sometihing that we championed.

    You were a friend that I suspect Linda has never forgotten. I have a sweet picture in my mind of her hand on your shoulder. As a matter of fact, I see my hand on your shoulder as well my dear friend.

    Thank you for this one.
    V

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  4. The heart-achingly wonderful specifics of this story aside, Karin, this is the perfect evocation of the simple, complicated friendships of childhood. Well done, my friend.

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  5. Once again, a perfectly-polished gem of a piece -- a masterpiece of place and emotion. I think I'm hating you a lot right now.

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  6. Beautifully written. My favorites; the childhood memory bits.

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  7. I like this. Its turns don't go as expected, yet they make sense. I thought her dad's stepping in would mean trouble, and I'm glad it didn't.

    I once had a friend, Joe, who was a good tennis player. He was soft-spoken, had long hippie hair and was skinny (or so I thought--apparently, "sinewy" was more to the point). So one day I asked him, "How come tennis? It's not exactly a hippie sport." He said, "I guess I'm just not a team player." Sometimes those quick, simple explanations are just right--not to mention "memorable."

    So, AH, you didn't just throw rackets, you broke 'em? Is there such a thing as Zen tennis? Not when I dabbled in it. "Spastic" and "consternating" and "infuriating" come to mind, but Zen, not so much.

    Ditto Earl--what became of Linda?

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  8. Great story. Glad you let the kitchen thing go. That last image of the two of you walking, with Linda's hand on your shoulder, will stay with me far longer than any culinary image you might have created.

    I wonder if Linda knew you would champion her against the bullies of the world? Lucky girl.

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  9. Surely, Banjo, you've heard of Tim Gallwey's "The Inner Game of Tennis." It was the first of his "Inner Game" books. Around 1975, I was playing a lot of tennis at UC San Diego. Gallwey came down and gave us a lesson based on his newly released book. A big eye opener. A lot of Zen in there. So now let's get back to the art of motorcycle maintenance.

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  10. Karin - This looks like the seeds of a great short story or more. There are so many little gems that could be explored. Like living in a town where most people are different, team vs. individual sports, breaking rackets, dealing with unreachable dreams, practicing with your dad, childhood friendships, bullies... How's your novel coming?

    When I got really into tennis I liked doubles more than singles. Not sure why, but I did notice that I had a certain guilt about beating someone at singles. I guess it was easier if I had someone to share it with.

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  11. I like friendship stories, mommy.


    wv: " ma rataic"

    crazy!

    Also, I know I was a dog before. A dog and a bad tennis player. (dig the dog-looking dinner)

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  12. If I was at school all over again, I'd want you at my school with me, KB.

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  13. Thank you, and Tim, I'll bask in your hate.

    Don't know what became of Linda. I don't remember her in fourth grade at all. Did she move? Change schools? That's the other side of most childhood friendships -- at least mine -- they're temporary.

    (Banjo/Earl, there is no zen in my tennis.)

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  14. I wonder what kind of adults childhood bullies grow up to be.

    JJ

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  15. So you still have some Sun.

    DAYo.

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  16. Well, the ratatouille looked pretty good. Miss J loves teh story of Linda.

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  17. Sweet.

    My memories are pretty good to, and without going into much detail, I relate. My best friend in grade school was the only Korean in our school, and somehow we were both respected for and hated for our close friendship. Sometimes it's good to be in the outer circle.

    Mr. Earl, "Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance" once a long standing debate between friends and myself, I'm curious; who did you read/perceive the child as being, (the child on the journey with the author)?

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  18. A sweet story. My memories of those earliest years are vaguer than yours, I think. Young children are very brave.

    I was a lousy athlete, too. Luckily no one cared, except the day in gym when my pitches were going over the plate. It was a pleasant surprise to everyone until I received a line drive to the forehead. I woke up a few seconds later, apparently just fine, but I didn't get to pitch anymore.

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  19. I wish I'd had a friend like you. Since I went to 11 different schools by 8th grade (and my idiot parents were not military, and had no excuse for wanderlust with a child), my only friend was my cat, Buddy.

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  20. Lovely story, lovely friend. It would be so cool to hear Linda's version, too!

    But does this mean the ratatouille didn't turn out so good? And now you are defending it?

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  21. Ah, Margie, you and Brenda beat me in # of schools (but not by much).

    Re: vegetables. From now on, I'm eating them raw.

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  22. I don’t like them overcooked too, .... was I wrong?....,NO!

    DAYo.

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  23. What an awesome friend she had in you. Do you still keep in touch?

    I only participated in team sports because I had to. When it came to baseball, I spent as much time as possible in the outfield, looking for four leaf clovers. I had as much chance of finding one as anyone else had a chance of batting a ball out that far.

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  24. Midtown: It's been 35 years and I don't recall even thinking about what the son might have represented. What's your take?

    The real story about the son is sad. Chris Pirsig was about to turn 23 and had gotten his life together living at the Zen Center in San Francisco. He was killed during a mugging near the Center.

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  25. Mr. Earl, I haven't thought about "Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance" for about the same length of time as you, (until you brought it up in a round about way.)

    But the debate around the son went something like this: At the time, half of us that read it believed the son was not on the ride a all, but was used as a metaphor for Pirsig's inner child: as a why to come to grips with his insanity and philosophical quest. The other half of us that read it believed that was total BS. I don't remember anyone of us ever dug any deeper into the possibility of a son actually having been on the ride... way before internet immediacy. Beyond that I still remember it as an important book on one mans quest for his sanity and the ultimate quality of life.

    Until you mentioned it, I had no idea that Pirsig's son had actually died. Sad story indeed.

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  26. I don't remember much detail about the book, except that it was absorbing and beautiful.

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  27. Sweet story... now I want to hear more about Linda-- and your cooking!

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  28. Midtown: I just always assumed that the son was really on the trip. Even so, the son could have represented the inner child. Pirsig has had an interesting, but apparently tough, life.

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  29. Love the stream of consciousness of the comments. Never read the zen motorcycle book, but always sounded like something I should read, or say I'd read.

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  30. Which leads me to comment, upon re-reading, on Mr. Goldstein's motivation and place in his daughter's life...

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  31. Well, durn, I wish I'd known you growing up. I was the last picked for every sport every time, and believe me, everyone made me know that they really resented having to put up with me. But I'm not bitter. I could out eat all of them. So there.

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