HOME

The street was the same as I remembered it. And the birds swooped as if to herald my return. So it was true, I hadn’t dreamed it. For a moment I stood and took in the beautiful cacophony of noise that I’d never fully appreciated before in all its ugly glory. The sun came out to shine on cue and its warmth informed me that I had now entered a safety zone for lost boys.

How can you know a place so well and yet feel that you are seeing it for the first time? If this is a dream and I awaken now I will be angry all day. Maybe all days.

I continue moving on further into it until I reach the gate no one ever closes, and the narrow cement path  leading to the apartment block steps I once knew so well I could climb them in the dark, and under the influence of too much life. This time there seems to be a lesson learnt in each step and greater effort needed to conceal the weariness of the outsider.

Halfway up I enter the glow from the first storey window that conspires to shine God-like behind the statue of Buddha as if even the universe is welcoming my return.

More steps and more weary remembrances of lessons learned and I am at the front door, knocking in a drum pattern of whimsy and familiarity.

After an eternity of seconds the door is opened and I see your smiling face as I remembered it from a long ago carefree time. Bright, loving and kind. I can now die in my footsteps and not be lost to wander and wonder.

I enter and am surrounded by the comfort of the greatest books and music ever written. Each word and note a friend of mine. And I sit at the empty table. Alone no more. Everything and nothing has changed as I take my place amongst it.

You ask me how I am. But there are no words to convey the miracle of ordained destiny.

For in that sheltered moment, I am home.

 

(C) Frank Howson 2017

Advertisements

A BABE RUTH STORY.

(written for my son long ago when we were separated by distance, not love.)

 Oneday, Oliver Howson was playing baseball on the lawn outside his Dad’s apartment. His Dad had just gone upstairs to get a cool drink for the both of them, and Oliver was practicing throwing his baseball up in the air and catching it in his new mit. Suddenly, he heard a voice. A loud gruff old voice which made him immediately look up. Well, he couldn’t believe what he saw. There, in front of him, framed by the glaring sun, was a big man in a baseball outfit.

 “That’s pretty good, Oliver,” said the man. “Y’know, when I was your age I practiced catching the ball all the time. The more I practiced, the better I got.”

 “Yeah, that’s what my Dad says,” replied Oliver.

 “Well, he sounds like a pretty wise sorta guy,” smiled the big man.

 “He sure is,” said Oliver, “He’s my Dad!”

 “Y’know somethin’, boy?”

 Oliver nodded his head.

 “I used to play baseball for a livin’.”

 Really?” answered Oliver.

 “Yep. I played for the Boston Red Sox for a time. Then the New York Yankees. Then the Boston Braves. Didn’t do too bad either. Long time ago, that is. Way before you were born.”

 “Wow, that is a long time ago,” said the boy.

 “I started out practicing in my small back yard. As I said, I worked on catching the ball in my mit. Then I worked on throwing it fast and mean. I practiced and practiced and practiced until I could throw the ball so fast the batter’d be out before he’d even seen it go past!”

 Oliver laughed.

 “Then I worked on batting, and I became so good at it I hit 714 home runs!”

 Oliver was mighty impressed. “Wow, that’s a lot!”

 “Sure is, boy. But you know somethin’? It was fun. I found somethin’ I liked doing and I practiced and practiced until I was really good at it.  Y’know, I wasn’t a very fast runner. And I wasn’t a great basketball player. Or, a football player. But, baseball, I loved it the first time I picked up a ball and a bat. That’s the secret to bein’ good at somethin’, boy. Fall in love with it. Then while you’re having fun, and playing it over and over, you get better and better! It worked for me anyway.”

 “Thanks, I’ll take your advice…Mr…?

 “Ruth. George Ruth. But people call me Babe.”

 And with that, the man held out his big hand and shook Oliver’s.

“Would you like me to sign your bat?”

“I sure would, Mr. Ruth.” With that Oliver excitedly fetched it and the big man signed some words on it. Then the Babe looked up at something in the distance and smiled.

 “Looks like your father’s back with those drinks for ya.”

 Oliver turned his head and saw his Dad coming towards him carrying a couple of glasses of ice cold lemonade.

 “Yeah. That’s my Dad alright,” said Oliver. He then turned to smile at Babe Ruth, but he was gone.

 “Sorry it took me so long, son,” said Dad, “Hope you haven’t been lonely”.

 “Nah Dad. Guess what?!”

 “What?”

 “I was practicing catching, when Babe Ruth came over to give me some advice.”

 “Babe Ruth?”

 “Yeah, Dad. He was just here! But I thought he was dead.”

 Dad looked at Oliver and smiled. But it was a sad kind of smile.

 “What’s the matter, Dad?”

 “No, son. People like Babe Ruth never die. They live on in the hearts and hopes of people. Well, I just wished I’d have gotten the chance to meet him. Do you realise how lucky you are?”

 Oliver knew.

 “What did he say, son?”

 “All the things you told me, Dad. Every word. Exactly. All about practicing. And working at what you love doing. He’s pretty smart!”

 This time Dad gave a really big smile. Followed by a really big hug.

 “You know, son, when I was a boy. Just about your age. My Dad told me a story about Babe Ruth. It was about Babe when he was getting old and it looked like he wouldn’t be playing baseball much longer. And one day, he was sitting on the bench waiting to go out onto the field and bat, when one of his team-mates noticed how tired Babe looked. Really tired. The team-mate said, “Babe, why don’t you go home? We’re going to win this game easy, so you may as well take the day off and get some rest. You’re not as young as you used to be, y’know?”

 But Babe just looked at his team-mate, and smiled. “Thanks, Buddy,” he said. “But I ain’t going nowhere but out there. And when I get out there I’m going to be trying as hard as I was in my first game to hit a home run!”

 “But why?” said his team-mate. “You’re the great Babe Ruth! You’ve got nothin’ to prove to anybody anymore. You’re in all the history books they’ll ever write about baseball!”

 “That’s not the point,” said the Babe. Then his eyes looked out at the distant faces of all the thousands upon thousands of excited people that filled the giant stadium that afternoon.

 “Somewhere in that crowd,” continued Babe, “A young boy has come today to see Babe Ruth hit a home-run. And it may be the first and the last time he ever gets to see me. And I’m gonna be doin’ and givin’ everything I can not to disappoint him!”

 And that day, Babe Ruth walked out to the plate real slow. He held his bat up into position, looked at the ball in the pitcher’s hand, said a silent prayer, and gave it everything he had. And you know what? He hit a home-run right out of the stadium and a lot of boys went home happy. So did Babe.”

“Oh, I forgot. Babe Ruth signed my bat! Tell me what it says, Dad.”

His father looked at the bat and tears welled in his eyes.

“What is it?”

“It’s a message for us all, son. It says “Don’t let the fear of striking out get in your way.”

 Then Dad and Oliver played some baseball. And when Dad threw the ball Oliver hit it as hard as he could and the ball flew right over Dad’s head and into the neighbour’s backyard. That day Oliver Howson felt what it was like to be Babe Ruth.

 

(c) Frank Howson 2013

EULOGY FOR A FIGHTER

One of my earliest memories was of Johnny Wheeler volunteering to take me to the barber for my first haircut. At that stage I had long golden curls that were my Mum’s pride and joy. Johnny took me to his mate Carl the Barber and gave instructions to the stylist. The next thing I remember is returning home and my mother shrieking when she saw my shaved head.  She ran Johnny out the house screaming,  “And don’t come back!”  I remember it being a particularly cold winter that year.

Fortunately Johnny didn’t take my mother’s words to heart and did come back. How could you not forgive him? He was Johnny. He was part of our family.

Another trick Johnny took great delight in was walking behind me and at the most inappropriate moment stepping on the back of my heel, causing me to step out of my shoe, and fall over. I was known as Shoeless Frank for some years as I stumbled around St. Kilda. Johnny was very well aware that, even for my young age, I had a very large vocabulary of swear words and that each incident would be met with me giving him a spray of abuse that’d make a sailor blush. They say in comedy, timing is everything. Well Johnny would perform this shoe trick every time we passed a priest or a nun. As a result, I think I’ve had my soul prayed for by more priests and nuns than anyone in history.

What bonded Johnny and I later on was our mutual love of music. Well, obsession. All the classics. Sinatra, Lennon, The Stones, Kristofferson, Elvis….When we talked about the King we were not discussing British royalty. There was only one King.

When he was running the nightclub Silvers he gave me a job there as a dee jay. Probably because he knew I’d play all the records he loved. It was a golden time. Johnny was at the peak of his game, and there was no better night club manager than him. No matter how packed the place was, and it was the hottest spot in town at that time, Johnny could always find his friends a table. He was genius at it.

Later on, when he was managing the Weathercock in Carlton, I visited him one day for a drink and met my future wife. Still, I held no grudges against Johnny.

Y’know, Johnny once said to me, during a bad patch in my life, it doesn’t matter that you get knocked down, the mark of a man is that you get up again. “You may count to seven over me, but never ten.” They were the final words of Les Darcy and no one took them more to heart than Johnny Wheeler. He lived them.

You see, Johnny was a fighter. And his greatest bout was the last few years in his life where he took all the punishment Life could throw and – to the astonishment of us all – kept getting up. He was an inspiration to me and I’m sure to all of us that had the privilege to call him friend.

Forget all this global warming stuff, the world will be a colder place without this man.