Sparked by Words


Five-year-old Danny Modoc stomped downstairs, the look of a champion on his face. His parents had asked him to change into something to wear to the school’s Open House evening, the year-end event where every kid gets to show off his best stuff for an hour while family and friends walk from science fair exhibits to band performances to the art show. Danny took their instructions seriously, and if I didn’t laugh, it was because I was too stunned and his parents too wise.

Stapled to every part of his white tee shirt was a baseball card. Dozens and dozens of baseball cards.

See, Danny was in tee ball, the pre-baseball sport for wee athletes where the ball isn’t pitched but knocked off a standing tee by a kid with a two-foot bat and a loose swing. Think beginning beginners. Kids love it and so does everyone who has a pumping lung because it is just so darned cute to watch the little guys swing with all their bitty might and run their hearts out down the baseline. And he collected baseball cards, nearly a requirement that year.

There he stood, happy to be supporting his school and Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson and anyone else who took the game to the edge until the next player surpassed him and set the bar higher yet. Danny was covered in baseball cards, shoulder to shoulder, neck to hem, front to back, and maybe even up inside his shirt. Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Sandy Koufax, Rod Carew, Ted Williams, Jo DiMaggio, Cy Young, Yogi Berra, Ted Williams. Just ‘cause I didn’t name your hero doesn’t mean Danny didn’t wear the player’s card. The kid beamed, his eyes sparkling from a shiny clean face, his posture as noble as a king’s. I can imagine the discomfort of the staple points prickling his bare skin, but like any athlete who goes the distance for his sport, he didn’t flinch.

Danny was ready to go to Open House.

Smart parents, his. They said not one word of discredit but followed their little boy out the door, proud of his imagination and pluck and individuality.

That evening happened 35 years ago. I’m not a huge baseball fan. When I attend a game, I’m more interested in the popcorn and hot dogs, the seventh inning stretch, and the people watching, who I watch, than the game. Don’t have a favorite team or one I despise, don’t know who’s hottest at home plate this year or balancing their mitt on their nose and do not care. But I like Danny and I’ve never forgotten his iconic stance.

So much so that Danny is in one of my books. He’s a character in The Tree House Mother.  Now he’s a pre-school-aged girl named Haley, on her way to attend the formal fiftieth wedding anniversary for her great-grandparents at a chichi restaurant in the high end district. Her own parents, while not willing to offend the venerable generation twice before them, are also unwilling to curtail their daughter’s confidence. Haley has an intuitive sense of the honor the occasion demands. She’s taken the package of sparkly pink cardboard tiaras purchased for her fifth birthday party the next week and is wearing one on her head. Also one on each wrist, and she’s stapled the other five to the hem of her dress, making it extra special. Toothache sweet pink. Shiny with rhinestones and sparkles. Fancy with feathers. Extra special.

When she walks into the banquet hall, everyone turns to look. Stops talking. Wonders what the hell is wrong with her parents, who are, by the way, dressed absolutely appropriately in ball gown and dark suit. For letting the kid show up dressed in glitz and trash. The temperature of the room cools two degrees as everyone sucks in and heats up five degrees as they all exhale. How dare the kid’s parents?


No one says the words but everyone knows the script.


But then, Haley is just so darned cute, and she is only four-going-on-five. Guests try to clip their grins, but really.

And then, Haley does something even more special. She walks right up to Great-Grandma Essa, takes the tiara from her own wrist, and puts it on Essa’s elegantly styled silver hair. It detracts from the diamond and pearl necklace at her throat and takes attention away from the off-white silk suit. And brings the first genuine smile to the old lady’s face that evening. First smile that month. See, Essa’s oldest son died of cancer a month before the party, and she just hadn’t felt up to celebrating. But the arrangements had long been made, the money couldn’t be returned, and everyone else in the family decided that Great-Grandma Essa needed this party to take her mind off her sorrow. Insisted she attend.

They were all wrong.

They were all right.

No one could bring a pinprick of joy to an old woman who had just buried her son. Except for the little kid who knew GG Essa was sad but didn’t understand why, who knew that what GG Essa needed was a pink tiara to feel really special.

And now you know how I write. I steal. I watch the people around me, I take what I witness, and turn it into story. Be careful what stuff you staple to your clothes. You might make an appearance in my next book.


Baseball card image courtesy

Tiara image courtesy


Comments on: "U is for Uniquely Unusual" (27)

  1. Love this. Nice getting a taste of your writing style. You had me captivated with Danny’s story. By the way you appear to know quite a bit about baseball. You correctly named all of the great players.


    • Thanks, Andrew, so glad you liked the story about Danny, all of it true except his name.

      I also have two sons who did (do) love baseball and who knew all the great players and who, like Danny, collected baseball cards, still stored in my house though my sons are long grown, because how can I throw them out? (The cards, not the sons. See what we moms do for our kids?) And, I used to know Rod Carew and his family. Super nice, down to earth folks.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Rod Carew one of the great hitters. I think he was from Panama. I know it was a Central American country. That is so nice of you to not throw out the cards. My first wife did that. I know I had cards that would have brought me some nice funds. She did it to my comics too. This was a nice taste of your work. Hope to see more.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, Carew was from Panama. He was a very soft spoken gentleman, but he had a very sorrowful life later. We knew him as a member of a tiny congregation to which both of our families were members, though I won’t say we were close personal friends, we being a bit out of their league. He was at the top of his profession then, a hero, and happily married to his first wife, and his three kids were young and healthy. He retired as a player the same year we moved to a different city. He later spoke to the students at a school where I taught art, so I got to meet him again for an afternoon. He was still the gentleman and urged the kids to do their best always. He graciously signed every autograph they requested. The kids loved him. Now you know everything I know about baseball.

        I have a very hard time throwing anything away, but I know those cards may be worth something, and I’ll save them till my sons come over to my house and throw them out or take them to their own homes. They come over, but they refuse to go through their old stuff. LOL.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Carew was a great player. And a good person. As many times as I have gone to Yankees games, only once have I ever caught a foul ball. It came straight to me from the bat of Rod Carew.


      • No kidding! That’s fabulous! You got to keep the ball, right? He was with the Angels when we knew him and his family. We lived in Anaheim, California, (middle class) one avenue across from the very tony and very expensive Anaheim Hills area. A lot of Angel players lived in the Hills, but I never was at their home, can’t tell you what it looked like. The area is quite beautiful, rolling hills, loaded with trees, big estates.

        A lot of the kids of the pro players were on the kids’ athletic teams our kids played on. You could usually tell – those kids could really play sports. May have been genetic or maybe they got great coaching at home – probably both.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Great coaching and genetics. You make that area sound heavenly.


      • Not sure any of the kids’ team coaches were the pros. I meant that their own kids got great coaching, as they should. Parents should teach their kids what they know best.

        As for the area: we moved because it is not a great place to live. The freeway access is horrific, there being only one major corridor and all ten billion travelers on it every hour of the day, every day of the week. The only time I ever got caught in traffic grid lock so bad that even all the surface and neighborhood streets were grid locked as well as the freeway, was when we lived out there. Late to work by one hour that day.

        The years we lived there, the superintendent of the public school district was indicted for embezzling from the schools. I’m not sure if that was the reason the schools were not great, or if everyone was just indifferent to education, but I wanted an excellent school district for my sons. Anaheim wasn’t it, and we couldn’t afford private schools.

        The area is in a canyon and the wind is unrelenting. It roars out of the higher mountain areas and sweeps across the area for 22 hours a day, days on end, weeks and weeks of every year. My older son developed asthma and both our sons had allergies. The worst bout of pneumonia I ever had was when we lived there, antagonized by the wind.

        The constant threat of fire all through summer and autumn is terrifying. We once stood in the middle of our street, all our neighbors with us, and watched a fire blaze down a rim less than a mile from us. I’d already packed. I called my parents to tell them we’d probably be over within the hour. They said they were planning to come to our house, the same fire threatening them from a different direction. Not heavenly at all.

        Those are the reasons we decided to move away from Anaheim, and I’ve never regretted that we did.

        It’s a desirable location for many people because it’s the “bridge” between Orange and Riverside Counties and links fairly quickly to LA, people needing reasonable access to places they work but a neighborhood that doesn’t cost their children’s future.

        Liked by 1 person

      • What a frightening story. Thankfully you and family survived. I can see why you never looked back.


      • That fire didn’t get to our neighborhood that time nor to my parents’. Fire is much scarier to me than earthquake, though I’ve been through both. Both can be devastating and deadly if you are at ground zero.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You are a trooper. You have great stories to tell. Need to write about them.


      • I have written about the 1967 Prado Dam Fire, in The Tree House Mother.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I will search for it when I get home.


      • Info about the fire? The part I wrote about burned Lemon Heights, a place where my parents nearly bought a home. It would have burned to the ground had we moved in. It did burn a close friend’s home.

        I made an error in the previous comment. It was called the Paseo Grande Fire. (There was a much more recent Prado Dam fire.) It burned huge swaths of Lemon Heights and Villa Park as well as other areas, a perfect canyon fire that jumps borders.

        This particular fire taught fire fighters all over California how unprepared they’d been, and they beefed up their training because of it. The firefighters that long weekend did a great job but they’d been hampered by not knowing the area well, limited access to the back areas of the neighborhoods, and the fact that many people were trying to move horses and other animals down to safety but didn’t have enough trailers to move all their animals. So they walked them down and often blocked passage of people trying to drive cars down the two-lane road.

        Some issues I learned about not from newspaper accounts, which you may have a very hard time finding, but from a close friend who lived on the border of the evacuated neighborhood and who had saved all the local news coverage. I interviewed her for hours over many weeks and she loaned me her papers. It was the interviews that allowed me to write details about the fire that were never reported.

        Anyway, look up Paseo Grande Fire, Orange County, California, if that’s what you’re curious about.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. That was delightful. I’d forgotten that part of The Treehouse Mother (or maybe I missed that meeting).

    How did Danny turn out? Now that he’s all grown up.


    • Actually, Jacqui, no one in the critique group read that part of the story. It happens toward the end, long after I stopped submitting chapters to be reviewed. I’ll tell you more in person if you want.

      As for Danny (whose name is actually something else, but the story is otherwise true,) his family moved shortly after that school year, and we didn’t keep in touch. But if I were a gambler, I’d bet he’s doing just fine.

      Thank you for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That explains why I didn’t recognize it. It takes so long to get through a novel with our 15-pages eo week–when it’s your turn–all we ever really get is a taste.


      • You’re absolutely right. It’s hard to remember the details of a story or to get the broad strokes of theme and plot development the way we critique, and yet I don’t see another way of doing it that would work better. Not unless we choose a really different format. That’s why I’ve never submitted more than 1/3 of any of my books. After a while of such slow review process, I’ve completed my book and am in need of a reader willing to tackle the whole manuscript. Still, the group has helped me write three books, so a limited complaint here. I still find it the best of the crit groups I’ve tried.


  3. Lovely moment–thanks so much for sharing it. Btw, I steal, too–everything from around me and what I see and read. 🙂


    • Then, we might meet in jail, for thievery of the most letters? You’ll know me by my keyboard, hitched surreptitiously to the hem of my shirt.

      Thanks for reading, Cathleen.


  4. In 2 lines you summed up the entire history of humanity:
    “They were all wrong.
    They were all right.”

    The next time I see you I’m wearing overalls, no underwear, a snorkel and smoking . . . a stogie. Can’t wait to read the story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m just now crawling back up to my chair after reading about your fashion sense and falling off from laughing so hard. No underwear and a snorkel? Oh, that’s going to be in my next book, for sure.

      Thanks for the kind comments. Judy, you are something special.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is lovely. People watching is a great way to imagine characters in our head, and although I’ve not yet based a character on any particular person, bits and pieces of my characterization no doubt come from my observations and experiences. As for the parents letting Danny wear his cards, good on them. It can sometimes be difficult to know when to step in and when to just let the child do his or her own thing.


    • I learned something about parenting that night. I was a decent and very loving parent, but I’m nor sure I would have had the confidence to let my sons do something so goofy. My kids have made me proud in so many ways, and I think they’re appreciative of some of my parenting skills.

      Thank you for reading, Carrie. You seem to base your stories on what you know from your profession (your other profession,) so you’re definitely a gleaner, if not an outright thief. I always own up to my writing thievery, because in real life, I don’t steal anything.


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