Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Christmas Tree


It had to be Bumble, the abominable monster in the 1964 Rankin/Bass animated show Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, that topped the first Christmas tree in my home in 11 years.

The blue, toothy creature that terrorized Rudolph, Yukon and Hermey, but who actually had a heart of gold, is perched atop the branches of our small tree, replacing the angle, star or snowflake that most use to adorn their displays.

A tree had always been a festive part of my holiday fare as a youth and it became a tradition when I got married years ago. In fact, there was a time when I was as enthusiastic about Christmas as the Clark Griswold character from the movie “National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.” I'd go to a nearby farm a cold day each year and cut down a nice fir tree while snow flurries fluttered and then haul it home and set it up.

I'd string lights galore from the house, around bushes and along the driveway. If something was stationary in the yard, it got bedecked with strings of thousands of blinking lights. It was Christmas, the most manic time of the year!

But that ended when my wife got sick with kidney failure. It's a debilitating disease and Christmas cheer was not on the forefront during the last of her life. We moved to a small house in 2005 and hastily put up an artificial tree in December, more for appearance than for tradition.

She died seven months later and her relatives, as relatives always do after a death, swooped in and picked over my stuff. They took clothes and shoes and books. Someone got my nice carpet steam cleaner. Her aunt took the Christmas tree. I was in the mourning stage at that time and was not really aware of all that was cleared from my home.

That year, the editors at the newspaper where I work had me come to Little Rock during the holidays, fearing my first Christmas alone would be rough. I usually work in a one-person bureau, covering northeast Arkansas. But that year, I worked in the newsroom for eight days, some 125 miles from my home, and lived in a hotel. I spent Christmas eve in a U.S. 167 convenience store, trying to convince a drunk couple not to continue driving because I'd have to write about their fatalities if they crashed.

Since then, I've worked four or five times on Christmas day. Last year, I wrote about an arson fire at the boyhood home of Bill Clinton in Hope, Ark. A year earlier, I covered a community dinner for a rural town where more than 300 showed up. In 2009, I did a story about people who had to work on the holiday and then followed that with an article about an evening snowstorm.

I lost the Christmas spirit. The holidays were depressing; I'd leave the my bureau office in the evening of Dec. 24 and sulk back to my house, watching others scamper to their homes full of family and cheer.

But then, this year. Those who've read Love, Life and APBA know about the Illinois girl and my changes. After I became smitten and drove to northern Illinois 17 times this year to see her, Holly moved here. And, because she is one of the most positive, spirited persons I've known, she decided we needed a Christmas tree.

We opted for a small 6-foot fake tree with colored lights and set it up a week before Christmas. It sits in the corner of our living room. There's some gaps in it; we've not manipulated the folding branches properly yet to cover the spaces. We also put on ornaments that she brought down with her during the move. She got a wreath made of real fir branches. The thick scent of pine permeates the living room and it makes an even more ambient season.

The tree looks great. It wouldn't have been there if not for her. And, hence, this is the “love” part of Love, Life and APBA. (There is APBA still: The first time I ever saw an APBA game — the 1976 football season — was underneath my parents' Christmas tree.)

In fact, Holly has been a great influence on a lot of things. I couldn't stand the classic movie “It's a Wonderful Life” because of its smarmy, warm felt message that, despite not having money, we are all wonderful. It went against my grain because I measured worth based upon my financial status. We watched the movie together the other day and for the first time ever, I liked it.
Bumble atop our Christmas tree

And Bumble.

I enjoyed the Rankin/Bass production of Rudolph as a child. I'd watch it each year and, full disclosure here, I'd tear up as an adult watching it because of the innocence of the show, the meaning behind it and the nostalgia it brought. But like all else that was Christmas, I stopped viewing it after 2006.

Holly and I watched it the other day for the first time in a decade and I loved it. And, yes, I teared up.

She knew of my fondness for the creature and when we saw a version of Bumble in a Christmas stocking at the store, she picked it up. It was the obvious tree topper. And for those who remembered the show, you'll get the symbolism. Far be it from me to overanalyze anything (I say sarcastically), but there is a deeper meaning to Bumble in our home.

Toward the end of Rudolph, prospector Yukon Cornelius sacrificed himself to save the reindeer and Hermey. He pushed Bumble toward the edge of a chasm and then, when Bumble fell, Yukon went with him.

“He's gone. Oh, he's gone,” Rudolph said as he looked over the cliff's edge.

But later, when Rudolph returned to Santa's place, there came a knock at the door. Yukon burst in with Bumble. The abominable monster fell, but didn't perish because, Yukon said, “Bumbles bounce.”

After more than a decade of dreading the Christmas holiday, I'm looking forward to this Christmas.

Maybe we all bounce, if you think about it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

American League Best Division

The California Angels are 15-3 against American League East teams so far in my 1991 APBA baseball season replay. They are 6-14 against their rivals in their American League West division.

Seattle is 13-5 against East division foes and have won 12 of 20 games against rivals in their own division.

It's been that kind of season so far as I've reached May 20, 1991, in this replay. It's still early. Very early in the season. But the American League West could change its name to the Best, while on the other side of the standings it's the American Least. So far, the West division teams have feasted on the East division teams, boosting their records and making the seven-team division far superior than their counterparts.

Only Toronto, with its 27-12 overall won-loss record so far, is playing above .500 in the Eastern Division. Detroit and Milwaukee are both 18-18. 

The rest have lost more than they've won; hapless Cleveland is 9-25. Indians outfielder Albert Belle, with his 10 home runs, is the only bright spot for the team. If I were a headline writer for the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper in 1991, I'd be tempted to refer to the team as “Eerie by Erie.”

But I have strayed off the subject as I often do.

Those of you who are not initiated with the APBA sports replay contests, it's a statistically-based game that replicates real baseball — and football, hockey and basketball as well — seasons by using cards and dice. Each player receives a card with a variety of outcomes based upon his actual season production. Gamers roll two dice and match the results to corresponding numbers on player cards. If a real player is prone to strikeouts, chances are you could roll numbers resulting in a “13,” which is a strikeout. Inversely, Belle and other power hitters are more apt to have plenty of “1” results, which is the universal number for an APBA home run.

It takes me a long while to do a season replay. More so lately, I've discovered. Used to be, I could complete a full season, rolling the 2,106 games in about 16 to 18 months. I began this 1991 season in August 2015. Now, 16 months later, I am about 24 percent complete. I have excuses for the slower play. Those who've read prior posts know I've had a huge change in my world. My Illinois girl has moved down here and my time is taken up with the bliss of all that.

But, I still find some time to roll games. (Because Holly is a woman, it takes her a long while to chose what to wear, apply makeup, fix hair, change clothes, reapply makeup, debate about what coat to put on and fuss more with her hair anytime we go anywhere. Because I am a guy with limited looks and less fashion skills, I can be ready to go in five minutes. I can take advantage of her prep time to get a few games in while waiting for her).

And while I play the games I do notice the trends. The Angels have lost only twice to Baltimore and once to New York. It's enough to propel them to third place in the West, four games behind division-leading Seattle and half a game behind Minnesota.

All teams but Oakland in the West have winning records.

Overall, the West is 94-77 against the East so far. Texas is 17-15 against the East and have yet to play a West division team. The As, at 8-9 against the East, and Minnesota, oddly 6-12 when playing the East, are the only team with losing records against them.

And there's more. Seattle's ace Randy Johnson is 6-2 overall. Jay Buhner leads the league with 11 home runs and Mariners teammate Ken Griffey has eight dingers. Frank Thomas has belted 10 home runs for the White Sox and Kent Hrbek of the Twins, Royals' Danny Tartabull and As Jose Canseco each have nine homers.

Only Belle's 11 home runs and Toronto third baseman Kelly Gruber's nine homers are standouts in the East.

The West surely is the best so far.

But, I've reached May 20 in the replay, which means there's a shift in the schedule in 1991. Most teams now are playing their division rivals. Can Seattle maintain its lead playing West division teams? Will California fall back to reality and finish 81-81 like the Angels did in the real season? Can Minnesota dominate their foes and take back the lead as they did in the real season?

It's one of the reasons why we play these games. I've got to see what happens.