How Shall I Answer If God Calls My Name?

Here I am. Out of place. The computer terminal asks for my borrower’s card ID. I don’t have a borrower’s card for this library: Cherry Hill Public Library.

Once, I did. But it’s gone now, burned in a fire at my parents’ house decades ago, or packed in some unlabeled box on a shelf in the furnace room of my house in Asheville.


Here I am: in the library of my youth. Here, in my first years of discovering poetry, I scanned the 800s, slid The Poetry and Prose of William Blake from its place, considered its heft, added the title to the eternal list of books to read one day, one day outside of time, and restored it unopened to its exact location in Dewey’s rational universe. [Read more...]

Before the Fall of Baseball

As a child, school did not rank high on my priority list, which meant my report cards led my parents to believe that, intellectually, I was probably about as dense as a baseball.

While watching a Kansas City Royals game on TV with my father one day, however, I made the mistake of reciting the batting averages of a few players from memory. After verifying the statistics using the career information on my baseball cards, my parents realized—much to their consternation, of course—that I lacked not smarts, but the will to apply myself in school.

I could never coast through class again. But the experience did confirm something for my parents, and somewhat paradoxically: While I was not as thick-headed as they thought, I did have a baseball for a brain. I thought of little besides America’s favorite pastime in those days. [Read more...]

Two Tribes: Good Wishes and Good Works

One summer my family got evicted from the house we were renting in Florida. The welding jobs ended and my stepfather refused to do anything that wasn’t union work so we burned through our money while he watched television and waited for the union to call.

My mother worked and did most of the cooking and put up with her husband’s liquor and drugs and abuse until one day she wasn’t there. She’d gone to the hospital for “her nerves,” he told us. Then someone nailed the red poster to our front door.

My stepfather stayed indoors. Each afternoon he gave me a couple of bills and I would bike along a winding blacktop to a convenience store, where I bought lunchmeat, white bread, and soup.

Now that I have four ravenous boys, I realize that he must have gone hungry, given how much my brothers and I ate. I want to remember him as the devil. I recall cigarette lighter burns and punches and humiliations, but I have to remember this as well, that he went hungry so we would not. [Read more...]

Of Parsonages and Pirates

For Cathy Warner, Literary Editor of IMAGE Journal’s “Good Letters” Blog

But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” —Luke 18:16

I remember three things about Doug.

Number one: When we were in the same class in elementary school in Odessa, Missouri in the mid-1980s, Doug lost the battle of boy versus bladder in the hallway.

“I really need to go!” Doug said to our teacher, sweat beading on his brow.

“I’m sorry Douglas, but you’re going to have to wait,” our teacher replied. “I can’t just let all you boys run willy-nilly in the bathroom now, can I? Wait until it’s your group’s turn to go.” [Read more...]

Little Houses

For Peter and Jackie Cooley, who live in one.

“So what do you know about East Pines?” I directed the question about a nearby neighborhood to an acquaintance whom I know solely as a friend on Facebook, a local historian who has written widely on the postwar country music scene in Prince George’s County and the “haunted boy of Cottage City,” who was the inspiration for The Exorcist.

“Not much,” he typed back. “You could check the Prince George’s archives.”

It was a response that was both a surprise and not. A surprise that even an expert on these old inside-the-Beltway neighborhoods knew nothing about this particular one, and at the same time, a confirmation of the neighborhood’s generally unassuming quality—it is a place that appears as though it is used to being forgotten.

East Pines has not, however, been forgotten by me, and my thinking about the place has recently begun to border on mild obsession, the subject of lunchtime Google searches trying to track real estate values and whether or not there’s still an active homeowner’s association. Sometimes after dropping the children off at school, I will make an unexpected turn onto East Pine Drive, and for a few quite moments, wander its eerily quiet, meandering lanes. [Read more...]