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I need to vent about an incident that’s been stuck in my craw for a while.

In 2017, I wrote about my granddaughter Maddie’s budding career in volleyball. Back then, she was about to enter 8th grade, the last year of middle school. She had been playing volleyball for several years and was so talented that she was about to be invited, as an 8th-grader, to play on the JV team at Jefferson High School.

A lot has happened since then, some of it good, some otherwise.

Maddie indeed played on the high school JV team while still in middle school. In fact, she was a starter, playing as a setter and the opening server. Maddie has a killer serve.

When she entered high school as a freshman, she advanced to the varsity team, again as a starter, a setter, and the opening server. Maddie was a genuine phenom. She was nominated for Freshman of the Year in the region, and she got an honorable mention for the All-Area Team.

In 2019, her sophomore year, she was elected team captain. Jefferson was loaded with talent that year and went on to become region champ. Maddie was named to the All-Area team, was a Player of the Week, and was nominated by her teammates as the season MVP.

In 2020, her junior year, she was team captain again, and the Jefferson Dragons were region champs for the second year in a row. Again, Maddie was named a Player of the Week, and she was nominated for Player of the Year.

Maddie was scary good, as a server, a defensive player, and a setter. Late in the season, she passed 1,000 assists in her career at JHS. She was the clear favorite to be named MVP and probably a member of the All-Area Team.

Then, at the close of the 2020 season, everything changed.

Maddie has mad skills, but not the classic physique of a volleyball player; she doesn’t have the height. Offense dominates, and volleyball players who advance to the college and pro levels almost always are tall — approaching six feet, preferably more. Maddie is a perfectly normal 5’6”.

Understanding that reality, Maddie told her coach at the end of the season that she would not seek a scholarship to play volleyball in college. Because the awards and accolades are closely tied to being recruited and getting scholarships, the coach turned her attention to girls who aspired to play volleyball in college.

That year, with Jefferson so talent-heavy, the awards took on even more importance. When the end-of-season awards were announced, all the honors and recognition, from team MVP to All-Area honors, went to the girls seeking scholarships. Maddie was shut out completely.

Although most of the winners were deserving, Maddie, the heart of the team, was far more so. But the importance of the awards to recruiting took precedence.

Now, I’m a realistic guy. I understand how the awards system is used. I understand all that.

But the JHS volleyball coach, the coaches at the other league schools, and the school administrators failed Maddie miserably. They coldly disregarded her talent, her contributions, and her feelings.

It would have been simple and painless to arrange some kind of special recognition to honor Maddie’s stellar 2020 performance, with her senior year still to come. It would have been so easy to do the decent thing. They did nothing.

Maddie has been in the gifted program since kindergarten. I like to say she has been an adult since age 4. She knows perfectly well when she has been insulted and disrespected.

So she quit volleyball. Walked away. Did not play for JHS her senior year. Nor did she play club volleyball again.

In the 2021 season, overflowing with talent, the Jefferson team won its 3rd straight region championship. Had Maddie remained on the team, she would have been a major part of it, no doubt as team captain — although aware that no achievement awards were likely to come her way. Instead, she is enjoying her new free time.

As steamed as I am at the adults who treated Maddie so callously, I don’t think they’re awful people. They just have tunnel vision and problems with empathy. Some people never fully mature.

But Maddie is a grounded and confident person, with a degree of integrity her coach and the other adults wouldn’t understand. Maddie was treated badly, and she reacted appropriately.

This winter, she served as an assistant coach for one of the club volleyball teams in Gainesville. She said teaching the younger girls was a delight.

At a tournament earlier this month, her team took second place.

That’s my girl.

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I always figured I inherited my abilities as a writer, and my enjoyment of writing, from my black sheep maternal grandfather, Bill Horne.

I say black sheep because Bill walked out on his family when my mom was a toddler, and worse, never again tried to contact her. Based on the evidence, he was a jerk.

With that information on the table, I will move on.

Bill worked as a railroad dispatcher, but he was a writer at heart. For years, he wrote, and occasionally sold, fiction and non-fiction in various markets. Mom had carbon copies of several of his unpublished works, all of which I later inherited. Some were science fiction stories, some were essays about the great outdoors.

One of his most memorable efforts was a science fiction novella entitled “The Germ-Beast of Insanity.”

In it, an Indiana Jones type hero goes to a museum where a hair from the head of Confucius is on display. The hero shrinks himself down to microscopic size, and, atop the hair, battles the germ-beast of insanity. I am not making this up.

I don’t recall much more about the story, except that the hero prevails and returns to normal size. I don’t remember how he discovered the germ-beast, how he shrunk himself, or if other germ-beasts existed.

Bill Horne with a slingshot, place and date unknown.

I haven’t read Bill’s stories in years. The carbon copies, I’m sad to say, are missing. Years ago, I searched for them without success. I assume they’re in the attic in a box my kids will find one day.

But I do remember Bill’s writing style. His prose stood out as overly elaborate. A bit on the purple side. The man wrote with passion and panache, as if it felt good, and, in his heart, he saw himself as a virtuoso.

I should point out, however, that enjoying something and being good at it are not the same. I love music, but I can’t sing or play a single instrument. And then there’s the case of Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

Sometimes, my own prose can adopt a fancier flourish and may lean toward the purple. But that’s on purpose, when I’m trying to be funny or dramatic. Most of the time, my output is relatively standard and straightforward. Journeyman level, I’d say.

In all honesty, I think I turned out to be a better writer than my grandfather.

No question, really.

None at all.

I need to find those carbon copies.

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More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

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More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

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Pix o’ the Day

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More favorite photos I’ve taken over the years.

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My mother, Ann Horne Smith, was a great lady. She was whip-smart — probably the most intelligent person I’ve ever known. She was pretty, funny, vivacious, generous, and a person of great integrity.

And Mom gave her children a gift that is valuable beyond measure. Without fail, Mom judged others by their behavior and character, never — never, ever, ever — by their race, religion, or nationality. The example she set was profound.

This from a woman born in 1921 in rural south Georgia.

Mom cursed like a sailor, but racist and bigoted language was forbidden in our house. When we spoke about someone, she insisted we do it fairly and respectfully.

“Talk about people as if they were in the room,” she would say.

The same rules applied to the students in the Sunday School classes she taught. She scolded many a young girl for gossiping or being racially insensitive.

Mom addressed everyone in the same courteous manner — family, friends, neighbors, tradesmen, store clerks, strangers — regardless of their race or other factor. Mom believed that everyone is entitled to respect, unless and until they demonstrate it is undeserved.

I like to think I absorbed Mom’s lesson. I consider myself to be — I try to be — a fair and unbiased person. To the extent that’s true, I owe it to Mom’s example. I raised my own kids accordingly, and both boys, as well as their kids, show every sign that the lessons were learned.

How Mom turned out the way she did, considering when and where she was raised, I don’t know. My grandmother Leila is the likeliest influence, although she never seemed as outspoken and uncompromising about personal behavior as Mom was.

But maybe I’m not giving Leila enough credit. when Mom was just a few years old, my grandfather Bill Horne walked out, and Leila suddenly was on her own as a single mom. Still, she had the grit to open a beauty salon and operate it through the Great Depression.

Take it from me, folks, it’s crucial to talk to your elders. Have long conversations with them. Pick their brains.

You need to ask the important questions while people are still around to answer them.


Ann Smith (1921-2005)

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Overcompensation

over·com·pen·sa·tion | noun: excessive reaction to a feeling of inferiority, guilt, or inadequacy, leading to an exaggerated attempt to overcome the feeling.

———

Back in the 1970s, we lived in Fort Lauderdale, and I was trying to get established in the advertising and PR business. Those first jobs didn’t pay much.

Money was tight, a constant worry. The boys didn’t really lack for anything, but the situation weighed heavily on me and Deanna.

Things eventually worked out, but those were difficult times. I am reminded of them some mornings when I step into the closet to choose a t-shirt.

Yes, therein lies a tale.

It’s funny how the mind works. Back in our Fort Lauderdale days, as I struggled to pay the bills, I seized upon a small, inconsequential matter to be irritated about. Or, rather, to pout about.

It was the fact that, while everyone around me — friends, family, neighbors — owned cool and interesting t-shirts, literally every t-shirt I owned was plain, unadorned white. (Men’s t-shirts typically were white back then, in case you didn’t know.)

I didn’t own any t-shirts that bore logos, cartoons, or printing of any kind because I couldn’t afford them.

Well, that’s not quite accurate. More correctly, the money was better spent in other ways. I guilt-tripped myself out of owning t-shirts that were fun and appealing — and it bugged me greatly to be deprived in such a manner.

Time passed, and our money situation improved. Eventually, I rewarded myself with a few interesting t-shirts — a Georgia Bulldogs here, a Led Zeppelin there — but only a few. The money still was better spent in other ways.

That line of thinking ended when I found myself divorced. Suddenly, I was on my own and answerable to no one but Rocky Smith.

Accordingly, I began collecting t-shirts with gusto. I did it because, by God, I deserved those t-shirts. Not a very mature reaction, but immensely satisfying.

In the years that followed, I started taking regular vacations out west. I came home with t-shirts from Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, Yellowstone, Death Valley, Moab, Durango.

When I went on whitewater rafting trips in Arizona and West Virginia, I got t-shirts from the outfitters — Class VI, Outdoors Unlimited, AZRA.

Later, when I bought an RV and began taking road trips, I picked up souvenir t-shirts from the Northwest, the Great Lakes, New England, the Gulf coast, and more.

And naturally, in addition to souvenir shirts, I bought others that caught my eye. These two beauties, for example.

T-shirt-1

T-shirt-2

Okay, so what’s the bottom line? How many non-plain t-shirts do I own today? About 40.

The number seems to have reached equilibrium and stabilized there. When a shirt wears out, it gets a second life in the rag box. Meanwhile, I’ve picked up a new shirt to replace it.

I freely admit that my affinity for the t-shirts is excessive. I am overcompensating for a perceived deprivation from long ago that, in fact, I inflicted upon myself.

On the other hand, I truly appreciate and enjoy my shirts. And, as obsessions go, this one is pretty benign.

On wash day, when the t-shirts come out of the dryer, I hang them up instead of folding them. That way, I can peruse them more easily in the closet.

The shirts take up about two feet of closet space. As part of my morning ritual, I go down the line and pick out a t-shirt to wear that day.

Am I in the mood for the Elvis mugshot t-shirt? The SpongeBob SquarePants t-shirt? The Roswell UFO Museum t-shirt?

Perhaps a shirt from Grand Canyon (I have several from which to choose). Or the Allman Brothers Summer Jam 1973. Or the NASA I Need My Space.

Aha! The Beavis and Butthead. Perfect!

Anyway, that’s the story of my t-shirt collection. I should add that it involves one great irony:

I always wear a button-up shirt on top, so nobody ever sees the t-shirt but me.

T-shirt-3

 

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On the website of the magazine Psychology Today, I found a pretty good definition of psychoanalysis. It’s a bit intricate, but you can handle it.

Freud pioneered the idea that unconscious forces influence overt behavior and personality. He believed that childhood events and unconscious conflict, often pertaining to sexual urges and aggression, shape a person’s experience in adulthood.

Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis created the framework for psychoanalytic therapy, a deep, individualized form of talk therapy. Psychoanalytic therapy encompasses an open conversation that aims to uncover ideas and memories long buried in the unconscious mind.

Psychoanalysts employ specific techniques, such as spontaneous word association, dream analysis, and transference analysis. Identifying patterns in the client’s speech and reactions can help the individual better understand their thoughts, behaviors, and relationships as a prelude to changing what is dysfunctional.

As the final sentence explains, the goal of psychoanalytic therapy is to help the patient understand the subconscious causes of dysfunctional behaviors in hopes of changing them.

A few decades ago, I spent a year in psychoanalysis. I met regularly with a psychiatrist, and we explored what makes me tick.

It was a unique and, in many ways, strange experience. All that effort and professional firepower focused solely on me, my thoughts, my beliefs. Having my innermost self under a microscope was surreal and a little spooky.

How I ended up seeing a shrink is an interesting story.

Deanna and I got divorced in 1989. I’ve mentioned the split occasionally on this blog, including here and here, but never in much detail.

I don’t intend to elaborate now, except to say that, when she handed me the divorce papers, a part of me was surprised, but another was not. There had been signs.

She and I began to have disagreements, but all along, I thought they were transient and fixable. I never believed they were significant enough to end the marriage.

Deanna saw it otherwise. It’s a fact that the only person you can understand with even remote accuracy is yourself. And even that is an iffy proposition.

Several years before the divorce, she expressed an interest in seeing a therapist. I took it as a positive thing. If issues are bugging you, it’s good to try to understand and deal with them. She ended up going to a psychiatrist affiliated with Emory University in Atlanta.

Immediately, the doctor proposed seeing both of us, in separate sessions, to facilitate Deanna’s analysis. She said sessions with both marital partners is always advisable.

To be clear, I’m a believer. Freud had some nutty ideas, but his central belief that (1) experiences in childhood affect behaviors in adulthood, and (2) it pays to understand them — that makes sense to me. I certainly don’t object to the concept of therapy.

Nevertheless, I was hesitant. I felt no need to undergo analysis. I was confident no sinister, malignant demons lurked inside me. All my demons are minor and benign.

Further, there was the cost. For one patient, $70 or $80 per session was brutal. For two, it would be crippling.

On the other hand, two facts were clear. First, the doctor might be right that understanding me would help her understand Deanna. And second, if I declined, I would be seen as an obstacle and a villain.

I agreed to undergo analysis.

The sessions were casual and calm. No couch was involved. The doctor and I got along well, and, session by session, she went about the task of sizing me up.

At the same time, I got to know the doctor and her methods. Often, I could see where she was taking the conversation.

For example, she showed interest in how my dad was affected by his World War II experiences. (He was a bomber pilot, was shot down, became a POW.)

After the war, Dad suffered significant anxiety and flashback problems. He struggled with PTSD for many years until, late in life, he finally fought it to a truce.

The doctor wanted to understand how Dad’s condition affected the rest of the family, and me in particular, which I freely admit it did. It was the topic we spent the most time talking about.

In those days, Deanna was a stay-at-home mom. My modest salary sustained us. Under those circumstances, the cost of therapy was a significant financial burden.

To her credit, the doctor arranged a generous payment schedule that I could manage.

And ultimately, also to her credit, she announced that she had seen enough. She said continuing my therapy sessions was not worth the time and expense. We were done.

In effect, she concluded I was acceptably normal and stable and did not require her services. It was a veritable thumbs-up for my mental health, a seal of approval from a professional. I was shrink-certified.

I wasn’t surprised. And it was supremely satisfying.

Mic drop

I don’t recall how long Deanna continued therapy. I never learned anything about her sessions, whether they were fruitful, or how they ended. I never asked.

But I well remember sending checks to the doctor every month, slowly paying down the tab.

Then one day, long after Deanna’s therapy ended, a letter arrived from the doctor.

She informed me that a fire had swept through her office building, and many financial records had been destroyed, mine among them.

She and her accountant decided to declare my debt absolved. Roughly $1,000 was being forgiven and, I assume, written off on her taxes.

I mean no disrespect to Freud or his disciples, but that gesture did more for my mental health than all of the therapy sessions combined.

Lucy

Freud-S

 

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Pudgy

Some dogs have a heightened instinct to protect home and family. We think of breeds such as Dobermans, German Shepherds, Boxers, Rottweilers, etc. as being natural guard dogs.

When I was a kid, I had a dog named Pudgy, a certified mongrel, who was in no way the guard dog type. But on one occasion, he surprised us. It happened over the Christmas holidays in 1952, just after my brother Danny was born. Pudgy was a puppy then.

Let me begin by noting that my pal Jake, who has been with me for almost a year now, is my eighth* dog. Before him was Paco; before Paco was Kelly; before her were Dinah and Murphy; before them was Frederick the Bassett Hound; before him was Kimo; and before him was Pudgy.

Seven of them entered my life after I was an adult. Pudgy was the dog of my childhood.

Pudgy-1

Pudge was a happy, lovable little guy. Technically, he was the family pet, but everyone understood he was my dog.

He was born to a litter of generic mutts at a neighbor’s house when my family lived in Falls Church, Virginia. I was seven years old, maybe eight.

I remember going to see the pups one cold evening with Mom and Dad. Snow was on the ground. The pups were in the garage in a blanket-lined cardboard box, wiggling and yapping. A kerosene heater was nearby.

To get you oriented, think of the movie “A Christmas Story,” which takes place in the late 1940s. Ralphie’s world in Indiana and mine in Falls Church were remarkably similar. The people, neighborhoods, schools, communities — all essentially the same.

That night in the garage, the dads chatted, and the moms fawned over the darling puppies. Then they told me to choose any pup I wanted as long as it was male. Pudge was the most active of the litter, and he was rather striking with a white body, black head, and tan eyebrows. He was my choice.

We named him Pudgy because he was round and plump. Most puppies are, but the name turned out to be appropriate. He grew up to be low to the ground and stocky.

A month or so after we got Pudge, a few days before Christmas, my brother Danny was born. Mom brought Dan home from the hospital right after Christmas.

Dad was a disaster when it came to cooking, cleaning, and other domestic tasks, but we got by, and we managed to assemble a crib in Mom and Dad’s bedroom. Mom took care of the baby and slept a lot. New routines took shape. Little Pudgy ran around joyfully, soaking it all in.

A few days later, the first relatives arrived to see the new baby: my paternal grandmother, universally called “Honey,” and Aunt Betty, who drove them up from Savannah.

I recall the scene well. After hugs all around, Honey set down her purse, removed her pillbox hat and veil, and asked to see the baby.

Mom and Dad escorted her into the bedroom where Dan was asleep in the crib. Honey tiptoed up to the crib and peered over the rail at Danny.

Suddenly, Pudgy shot out from under the crib and confronted my grandmother, barking furiously, bravely protecting the new human.

Honey hastily jumped backwards. I’m not sure if she and Betty even knew we had a dog.

“Wal-tuh?” she said with alarm. “Wal-tuh” is the Geechee way of saying “Walter,” namely her son.

As my grandmother retreated, Pudgy advanced, barking like a small fiend. One of us, probably Dad, scooped him up and tried to shush him. He was slow to calm down. His puppy growls were almost comical, like the purring of a cat.

With Pudgy restrained, Honey and Betty were able to see Danny properly. Dan, of course, had been awakened by the barking and was bawling robustly. The scene was chaotic.

Pudgy soon calmed down and was himself again. But over the next few days, he continued to object loudly whenever Honey approached the crib.

Curiously, his problem was only with my grandmother, never with anyone else, and only when she came near the crib. No one had a clue what was going on in his brain.

You had to feel bad for Honey. She was a dignified woman, very straight-laced and proper by nature. She was a fine person, but, as the saying goes, she was standing behind the door when the humor genes were handed out.

Honey’s default demeanor was serious and formal. I remember her as a matronly lady always clutching a hanky. I recall no evidence that she had a relaxed and casual mode.

Stella Ham Smith (Honey) at 201 Kinzie Ave., Savannah, Nov. 1951.

Which was a shame. It might have allowed her to see the humor in Pudgy’s behavior and laugh it off. Instead, she reacted with concern and bewilderment.

After Honey and Betty went home to Savannah, life returned to normal, if having a new baby and a new dog can be normal. For a while, Pudgy slept under the crib, presumably guarding Danny. He launched no more attacks.

In 1957, the Air Force transferred us to Europe, and Pudgy couldn’t come along. He went to live with my maternal grandparents in Suwanee, Georgia.

Naturally, he quickly bonded with them. And, when we came home from Europe in 1960, it was clear that Pudgy was their dog, not mine.

To my knowledge, the guard-dog behavior he exhibited in Falls Church never resurfaced.

Pudgy-3

The Smiths suffering through a photo session, Falls Church, October 1953.

Pudgy had a good life in Suwanee as a country dog. Frank’s assorted hunting dogs lived in a backyard pen, and Leila’s cats were largely feral, but Pudgy was a pampered house pet.

His end came abruptly when he was about 13. I was home from college for the weekend, and Mom had asked me to stop at Leila’s to pick up some tomatoes.

When I backed out of the driveway, I didn’t know that Pudgy was under the car. He wasn’t run over, but he took a blow to the head that left him dazed and staggering. He was glassy-eyed, gasping for air.

I put him on the passenger seat and zoomed off toward the vet’s office.

On the way, suddenly, he snapped out of it. The old Pudge was back, relaxed and normal.

But it didn’t last. By the time we got to the vet’s office, he was in distress again, rigid, his breathing labored.

He died overnight at the clinic.

Pudgy was a good boy, loyal and faithful. A delightful friend. A credit to the family.

I still miss him.

Walter Allan Smith (Rocky) and Pudgy, June 1956.

Pudgy and me, 1955.

* Actually, I had a ninth dog, but only for about three days. When Deanna and I got married, she had a poodle named Loser. Loser always hated me anyway, but he went bonkers over the new living arrangements. After he bit me a few times, Deanna gave him to her grandparents.

 

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