262 Down Right: Stories of Sulphur Dell and Nashville Baseball

Psst: It’s Not About the Lunch

My boyhood friend Ralph writes wonderful stories about life that I relate to and wish I could call my own, even if just nearly so. He is especially expressive about his projects during our monthly “Lunch of the Exiles”, four guys from high school who enjoy communing together on a regular basis. Buddies Eddie and Ken round out this lunch bunch, and sometimes Ricci and others, all having known one another through our elementary-junior high-high school connections.

We connect one to another in our own way. Because I admire Ralph’s writing style, his published works allow me a perspective to my youth, days of marriage and raising kids, and even growing into the age I am presently in. So in that way, I often connect to Him. His words are so much of a parallel to those experiences of adolescent and teenage experimentation we share.

But it’s not just him. We have great fun, our small group, in remembering those vintage days of a close-knit neighborhood when life seemed to have been much simpler. We each have new, not-so-simple tales to tell about marriage and divorce, kids and grandkids, good health and sometimes bad news about operations, procedures, and ill health.

And we share much more, too. After our recent September daytime seance my wife invited the boys and their wives to meet us for a surprise birthday supper at a local Mexican restaurant (complete with one free dessert and eight forks for sharing and a spoonful of whipped cream in the face of the sombreroed guest of honor).

Eddie (who previously bought my lunch as a gift) gave me a birthday card, Ralph gave me a copy of a book of baseball stories (“Nobody writes like this anymore…”), and to my great surprise Ken presented me with my very own eighth grade Advanced Math textbook, the real one, complete with underlined sentences, penciled calculations in the margins, and jokes, sayings, and pictures of subjects that were obviously impacting my lame, non- algebraic mind at the time.

Can you see that one of our connections is the written word? I do. Even a card, simple words of caring and love in it’s own way, is a book. Thanks Eddie, Ken, and Ralph.

But Ralph writes, and I read, and in his pages I sense my own past, present, and future, assisted by Eddie and Ken’s tales of boyhood, too. But more than basketball scores, teachers names, and cafeteria food fights, Ralph remembers how he felt about basketball and his dream of becoming a star in his own right, the impact teachers had on his future penmanship and the authoring of novels and short stories, how gorgeous certain girls were and the beauty he captured in his mind. His hidden whims, secrets, and more, are expressed beautifully in his published works.

As an aside to this love-fest of words, and since I usually write baseball stories, I am glad to say that this morning I finished the book that was Ralph’s gift, “Baseball: Four decades of Sports Illustrated’s finest writing on America’s favorite pastime” (1993, Time, Inc.).

Ralph is right, nobody writes like this anymore.

But as I encourage folks to read it, I also encourage others to experience Ralph’s works (www.ralphbland.com); he writes in a delightful style he can call his own.

And while you are at it, round up three great friends like mine and have lunch.

© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.