Ever since I turned 50, I’ve been doing the math. If you’re over 50, you may as well admit you do the math, too. Let’s see … I’m 50 … 51 … 52 … if I live to be 75, I have 25 … 24 … 23 … years left. What if I live to be 80? That sounds a little better. Then, I think about what 25 years feel like. What could I get done in 25 years … 30 years … how many years will I have my health … my mind … my spirit? Sometimes I feel good about the math. Other times I feel like … well … like the math is selling me short. And, I don’t even like math. I’m an English gal. I like to write, obviously, and I don’t like to do math. But, I do get obsessed with those numbers at times.
Last night, I got a shot of hope. Daddy, who turned 75 today, released his fourth book at a phenomenal book release party. I’ve often thought that 75 might be the start of the downhill slide of my life. We have no guarantees on anything, and our health can take a turn anytime, but if things go well, somewhere between 75 and 105 things will get dicey. Daddy is experiencing a great career event – maybe one of his top ones – at the 3/4 of a century mark. This book may not be highlight of his life, but it certainly is a capstone event. The book details the highlights of his life, and last night was a gathering of many of the people throughout his life that were part of those significant events and times. I can’t speak for him, but I believe he was really, really honored.
The publisher, Trent, from Acadian Publishing, said they sold about 300 books last night. I know several people who bought cases of books to give as Christmas gifts. The place was jam-packed. The founder of TJ Ribs, T.J. Moran, hosted the event as a gift to Daddy, and several LSU greats were there – Dale Brown, past head basketball coach; Jimmy Taylor, past All-American running back at LSU and All-Pro with the Green Bay Packers; Lynn LeBlanc (sp.), past LSU football player; Gus Kinchen, ex-Tiger football star and many others. Some faces were missing from the days when Daddy covered LSU – Charles “Cholly” McCLendon; “Pistol” Pete Maravich and his dad, Press; and Paul Dietzel who was not well enough to attend. Growing up in our household, we had one telephone that hung on the wall in the kitchen next to the bay window. As teenagers, we raced to the phone to answer, and we knew Dale, Press, Paul, Bert Jones and all the LSU names. We’d be disappointed that it wasn’t our current love interest and just some LSU coach or player calling Daddy back for an interview request. Little did we know that we might have been lucky to get a chance to interact with these folks. It was just part of the backdrop of our lives. We played jokes on them, and they played jokes on us all the time.
I’m sitting in Barnes and Noble tonight with Daddy as a few people trickle in to get books and have them signed. The crowds and the long line last night prompted a few to wait until tonight to get them signed. A police officer walked up and introduced himself as a an ex-LSU baseball player who met Daddy when he was in college. He eventually went on to play with the Baltimore Orioles. He was so happy to see Daddy and spend a few minutes talking to him, reminiscing about his glory days of LSU baseball. Another gentleman walked up and said he knew nothing about Daddy’s book but was going to buy it just because he was Sam King, and he always read him as a child. Daddy is a bit of a local celebrity. Everybody knows him affectionately as Mr. Sam, the sports columnist for the State-Times and later the Baton Rouge Advocate. But, most of all, he’s known for his cigar-smoking, bourbon drinking, practical-joking sense of humor and wacky, honest writing style. He just corrected me that it was Scotch, but I remember distinctly it was bourbon for a long, long time before he moved up to Scotch. 🙂
I asked him about the process of writing the book. Did he start with an outline? How did he decide to order his material? Did he sell them on an idea? Or did they tell him what to write? He shook his head. “I didn’t even want to write that damn book,” he said, “Dale and Moran have been saying they wanted me to start writing again, and I told them if they would find me a publisher, I’d write a book, but I didn’t think they’d do it. ” They found him a publisher, and he wrote down the stories of his life covering the Tiger Beat, stories about sportswriters in the days when typewriters and bourbon were mainstays on late-night deadlines, stories of the glory days when coaches, players and writers were part of one big organism called college athletics. The characters in the stories he lived first hand were great legends like “Pistol” Pete, Billy Cannon and Shaquille O’Neal. Those were the days before sportswriters waited in lobbies in locker rooms because women were entering the field. In his younger days, he took pictures and wrote stories, running on the sidelines alongside Billy Cannon as he made his famous Halloween night run. He hung out in locker rooms at half-time listening to coaches yell and scream and motivate players. This book is about the days before big business made college sports into an industry that is practically out of reach of the common person’s pocketbook.
Daddy’s party was a gathering of people from all of the areas of Daddy’s life. Our family is huge, and I saw cousins and Aunts that I haven’t seen in many years. My 92-year-old Aunt Iris from Little Rock received the invitation last week. She went to her doctor and told him that she was worried about making the 7 hour drive to Baton Rouge for the event but she really wanted to go. He told her to pack her butt into the car and get down here. She did. She said she had no problems making the drive. There were people from Graveyard Island where my parents live now who stopped by to get books. People from Watson who were coached by Daddy when they were kids showed up, and coaches from my high school stopped in. Daddy’s co-workers from the Advocate – photographers, copy editors and writers – that I knew as a child came out to get a copy of his book and to say hi. It was fun, and I know it was a great birthday present for Daddy.
When Momma told me that Aunt Iris had driven down to Baton Rouge on her own at 92 years old, I thought about that silly math that I do all the time. It is an inspiration to know that people can get out and do things and be rebellious at these late ages. Maybe I’ll write a book at 75 that covers the events of my life. Maybe I’ll get in the car on a whim and drive across the country at 92. Who knows? Maybe the math doesn’t matter at all except that it keeps adding years of joy and new acquaintances to an already full life. If Daddy’s example is any indication, life keeps moving forward in unexpected directions. He’s talking to a former co-worker right now who came in tonight especially to buy his book. He just told her the story of his first by-line. He was about 18 when he started writing for the newspaper. I wonder what that 18-year-old thought his journalistic career might look like. I wonder what the 75-year-old author thinks his life might look like ahead of him. If Aunt Iris is any indication, he doesn’t really need to do the math either. For both of them, I hope the years keep adding on to an already full life, and I’m going to put the mental calculator down. I never have liked math. I may just start taking notes for the book I’ll write when I’m 75. And, if you want an invitation, stay in touch. It’ll be good to see you again.
Congratulations, Daddy! Happy Birthday!
Note: If you want a copy of Daddy’s book, you can order Tiger Beat from Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com. You can get signed copies from Acadian House Publishing and the Lafayette, Baton Rouge and Shreveport locations of Barnes and Noble. And, of course, you can contact me … I have connections!!