Like father, like sonJune 18, 2006
This being Father’s Day, I feel compelled to write something about my dad — not just because he’s a good dad, but because he is and has always been a writer I look up to. He worked for the Rutland Herald for many years as a reporter, editor, and columnist, and subsequently did freelance work and taught seminars on effective business writing. It’s the columns which impressed me most, with their reliable mix of humor and wisdom, and this blog is, to some extent, an attempt to emulate them.
It took many years before my own writing style bore any resemblance to my dad’s. Even my college articles for the Williams Record were full of unnecessary digressions designed to showcase the author’s flair for ridiculous analogies and puns. Somewhere along the line, though, I got better at implementing such Dad dictums as, “Use no more words than needed; make every word count.”
If this blog’s prose is at least occasionally concise, funny, and/or lyrical, I have my dad to thank for that. And so, as a small Father’s Day tribute, I’m reprinting one of my favorite columns of his. Enjoy.
Autumn In Lane 1
by Jack Crowther
[from the Rutland Herald — October 15, 1983]
You can usually get an inside lane on a weekend at the city’s splendid running track next to the vocational school. That makes it congenial if you want to run a mile or two, because the distance is shorter on the inside lanes than on the outer ones. I don’t know why this is so, but isn’t there a principle of geometry that says, “The shortest distance between start and finish is the inside lane”?
The kids and I went out on a bright, blustery Sunday. The leaves on East Mountain had begun their fall show, warm colors announcing a cold season. The wind through the valley sang its October warning, “Button up, toughen up, get ready.”
The boy and the girl did their stretching exercises on the sun-warmed track. It seemed to me that if the inside lanes were better for running, the outside lanes might be better for stretching the leg muscles. But I hesitated to do much coaching on the basis of mere logic. So I kept quiet and they did their stretching on the second and third lanes, which seemed a moderate, sensible approach.
My daughter wondered if I could do “this.” “This” consisted of getting down on the knees and leaning back, back, back, until the head and shoulder blades rested on the track. Good for stretching the thighs, she said. I knelt and leaned back, but could move only 45 degrees past vertical. I moved from Lane 3 to Lane 6, but even with that and a series of gutteral noises could only bend another degree or two.
Good sport that she was, she gave me a second chance, this time on the “pretzel,” an exercise in which you sit down and interlock your arms and legs so that you look like one. Just seeing it made me dizzy with thirst, but I agreed to try. I chose to straddle Lanes 2 and 3, since the exercise involves both stretching and bunching up. All went well until the point at which I was ready to lock my right heel over my left thigh, when I toppled over.
She laughed; I laughed. Yet in the laughing, as in the gaily colored leaves up on East Mountain, was there not a telltale sign of my own athletic autumn? A season of tighter muscles, stiffer joints and shorter breath?
It was time to run. I kept the watch. My son was hell bent on improving his time for a mile. In an effort to stack the cards slightly in his favor, I moved out to Lane 3, figuring the seconds might be longer there, while he ran in Lane 1. The girl didn’t care about time; she was out for the fun of it. She had on a pair of mud-stained Miss Piggy joggers, but her step was light and springy as she circled the track.
I could not have kept up with my son, even though he judged his performance that day abominable, and probably not with my daughter. The boy is 10. I’m embarrassed to say how old the girl is, but she not only wears Miss Piggy joggers, she is still learning to read.
I tried once this summer to accompany the boy on a run of about a mile on city streets. Down Lincoln Avenue was fine. Up over the first small hill, no problem. My longer strides ate up his smaller ones. Down to Vernon Street, piece of cake. Across Vernon … Across Vernon … Well he left me. Short of killing myself, or maybe even dying in the attempt, I was not going to stay with him.
Of course, getting myself in condition would make a difference. But to fall back on that rationalization is perhaps to admit on a personal level that, yes, the leaves up on East Mountain are turning, the breeze carries a chill and a mile is a long way to run, even on an inside lane.