Good and bad events happened in 1979. According to HistoryOrb.com, the sometimes racist and comedic, Dukes of Hazzard, arrived on the television. To my dismay, I’ve seen every episode as a child. I must admit my immediate childhood crush on Daisy Duke for obvious reasons, but as many children love, the flying car kept my attention. “Yee-Haw!” the Duke Boys screamed as their cars attempted a new stunt and escaped the siren of Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane.
At six years old, my hot wheels race cars flew through the air as well. I used long cardboard tubes from former wrapping paper to build race car ramps, while my brother remained enthralled with his battery-operated circular race car track. Though not an avid reader in 1979, I stacked my Dr. Seuss and other books to support my city of ramps. Tubes circulated in many directions, while three cars simultaneously raced to the finish line. Maybe I was the typical American “good ole boy.” Inventing my own games. Inspecting each car for the balance between weight and quickness. Using any trash and tape I could find to extend my cardboard tubes as I stacked them higher and higher for best velocity.
In 1979, my favorite football team, Pittsburg Steelers beat the Dallas Cowboys in Superbowl XII. Quarterback Terry Bradshaw, playing for the Steelers, was my favorite football hero, and to this day, I admire his attitude, personality, strengths, and humility. When he tossed a “long bomb” to his wide receivers, I only remember the good catches. However, I also loved the Cowboys, since I lived in close proximity to Dallas. Roger Staubach for Dallas was also a strong quarterback, but the best action happened when Staubach handed the ball to running back Tony Dorsett who miraculously flew through multiple linemen only to be tackled a few yards before a touchdown.
I never played football on a team, but I played soccer. Dorsett, Staubach, and Bradshaw showed me how to move the ball around the smaller boys and kick the ball into the corner of the goal. At six, I was a soccer star, but I was also fitter, taller, and stronger than the rest of the children at my age. Who could stop an oversized and strong player in small town America? I was never that great once I moved to a larger town!
Finally, there is Pete Rose, my favorite baseball player to this day, despite his gambling issues. In 1979, Slugger Pete Rose played on the Philadelphia Phillies, one of my favorite teams next to the St. Louis Cardinals. Though his later seasons were not perfect, I followed his career on the baseball field. I wore his number every summer during my baseball season and played my game in his style. Pitchers were afraid of me because I might hit a line drive buzzing off the top of their baseball caps. The outfield never knew where to throw the ball because I kept running around the bases with the determination to make a home run without hitting it over the fence. Moving toward home plate with the catcher ready to catch a late throw and tag me out, I continued a fast run like thunder creating an earthquake under the catcher’s feet. I always slid late. It was a half slide but with the momentum of standing and running–my own invention from watching Pete Rose slide hands first into first base. What we both accomplished was fear. Fear of the catcher or the first basemen being slammed or harmed on the field. The fear factor, a psychological trick I learned early in life, always worked at a young age. I was rarely thrown out at home plate.
Pete Rose (also known as Charlie Hustle)
Cars. Soccer. Baseball.
What can we predict from childhood experiences? Events in our lives certainly impact our future. Something else happened in 1979 to include in the three I have already mentioned. This event lasted over a year and never stopped impacted me to this day. I cannot find the event in any history book or website. Perhaps if I returned to my elementary school records or interviewed people around me who can remember 1979, then the story might unfold better than I can describe.
1979 began a year of cars, soccer, and baseball but ended with a year-long illness undiagnosed until its late stages.
In 1979, my grandparents took my brother and me to a minor league baseball game in their Ford Pinto. On the way to the game, I vomited in the backseat of their car. My brother jumped quickly into the seat in case I heaved in his direction. Beyond the vomit, we continued to the game, and with such great seats next to the home team’s dugout, the Tulsa Drillers, I puked directly on the dugout’s roof. My grandmother has dementia now, but she used to tell this story one hundred times to anybody who might listen. If you ask her now, she will confuse three stories with whatever she remembers watching on television five years ago.
In 1979, I survived the vomiting incidents but did not realize I was still sick. My immune system nosedived one early Sunday evening at the University Church of Christ. We played chase in the parking lot and, suddenly, I stopped running, felt entirely weak deep inside my bones, and collapsed to the concrete. All the energy I stored to play in soccer and baseball games melted into the concrete. When my mother arrived, I said, “I cannot move.” In the year 2003, I stated a similar point to the EMT in an ambulance driving me to St. Francis hospital, my place of birth. I told her, “I am cold.” The EMT looked frightened because my blood pressure continued dropping. Now I know how my mother probably reacted during my stagnation in a church parking lot. (I googled the church. Couldn’t find the old building. Couldn’t find the concrete.)
In 1979, I began first grade with an upper respiratory infection, according to the doctors. Though sniffing on the school playground, I still played soccer. A friend asked me, “Where is Tonya?” Tonya was my first girlfriend; we planned to marry. “She moved to Springdale.” I sniffed and wiped my nose clean. I did not feel well enough to run on the playground, and so the next week or so, my mother took me to our local doctor and later to a specialist in Little Rock. I assume now they thought I had the flu or some other viral infection that would just go away, but it never did.
Finally, the diagnosis arrived after missing many weeks of school. Mononucleosis. The kissing disease. Untreated. Lurking in my body. Waiting for the right time to attack and hide. Attack and hide. My immune system waxed and waned, and after losing my appetite and no longer wanting to move from my bed or the couch, the doctors finally decided the appropriate treatment for me.
I missed most of first grade. After Christmas, I went half days to school and remained inside during recess. When everybody lined up at the door to have fun, my teacher asked the class if anybody wanted to stay inside with me. The entire class raised their hands. I thought they were crazy to stay inside, but somehow my teacher made my illness look like a privilege to the other students. I don’t remember what child I picked each day. I only remember staring out the elementary school window at the playground and watching the various children enjoying their time in the cold air. Usually at lunch, my mother arrived at the classroom door, and I gathered my material and exited the building with her. I probably should not have passed first grade, particularly by the standards in today’s schools, but back then, my teacher moved me on to second grade, though my reading and writing skills were developmental. Also, I had the worst handwriting in class! Back then, teachers did not give us Certificates of Appreciation. They still did not follow the sweet 1979 Sesame Street style of education.
Google Sky View of Ida Burns Elementary. The first grade windows would be looking out at the playground–now the white building.
1979 was the best and worst year of my life. I still think about sports but sit most days in an urban coffee shop drinking coffee, writing about Buddhism, and evaluating student essays and poems. I no longer care much about vehicles as long as they take me from point A to B. I cannot even get past the opening song on the Dukes of Hazzard anymore, nor do I watch much television at all, except for an occasional sporting event, though I do not root for one team. My youngest son still doesn’t understand why. I just don’t keep score. I never counted my goals in soccer; other people did. I just played, invented, and imagined.
What still remains with me from 1979, though, is the impact of a disease we did not catch and the Pete Rose/Terry Bradshaw determination to overcome past limitations. I struggle daily with panic attacks, anxiety, insomnia, a weak immune system, and enough endurance to make a full day meaningful, but I wake up early, organize my time enough to accomplish my goals and end the day exhausted. How is that any different from a football star conditioning his body to play his best game in front of an entire crowd? We all have our shortcomings.
I miss 1979. I miss swinging my foot and curving a soccer ball into the back of the net. I always walked back to my side of the field as if nothing great happened and prepared myself mentally to repeat the pattern. In 2013, I do the same, even in the coffee shop. My body aches, particularly my bones. I feel an extra heat and simultaneous shiver beneath the surface of my body. The illnesses lurk like hidden monsters. I am the fearful goalie missing the soccer ball kicked above my head! Many objects seem out of reach! But, I am also the fearless victor rising toward the multiplicity of life’s beautiful miracles and conflicts. In the end, when I die, I will take my bat or ball to my death and never quit swinging!