Life has a funny way of reminding a person that they can’t control things, even when they are in the driver’s seat.
I distinctly remember standing at my dad’s grave site for the first time knowing that I would never forget it. The moment is burned on my brain as though it was only yesterday, full of raw emotion and vivid detail. You can imagine my confusion then when I went to visit the site and couldn’t find it. I drove straight to where I remembered it being and then wandered around the graves, unable to find the one I was looking for. After what felt like ages (but was less than 10 minutes), I gave up and went to get a map.
The map sent me back to the exact place I had initially gone. Walking the rows again, I was chuckling to myself because I just didn’t understand why I couldn’t find my dad’s marker. I walked and walked and walked, intently looking at ID numbers while passing rows of headstones and it was only then that it began to dawn on me. When I finally found his marker and stood looking back the way I had come, I realized that this point in time had stopped for me but not for the rest of the world. For me, that day was almost a year ago but for many, it was far more recent. The number of graves that had appeared since last summer was staggering.
You can’t ask for a more literal reminder about loss and grief; we are not alone in the experience and there is far more of it than we can ever imagine. Standing there looking at all those white headstones, I couldn’t help but think of all the people that must be missed. There is a strange and sobering comfort that can be found when we look beyond our own loss and acknowledge it is just one among many.
I have always been a fan of the underdog. Nothing appeals to me more than the little guy taking on the world, regardless of the odds against him. When I stop to think about it, I trace its roots to the impact the film ROCKY had on me growing up. The film and its sequels were favorites in our house. On New Year’s Eve, we had ROCKY marathons while we ate snacks and played games, we had the ROCKY III soundtrack on vinyl, and we bequeathed the name “Rocky” on our family dog. I received the VHS ROCKY boxed set for Christmas the year I had my wisdom teeth removed and watched all of them all with icepacks tied to my face. And I’m probably the only person out there who argues about why ROCKY V is a great movie.
When ROCKY BALBOA came out in 2006, I was at the theater on opening day, tears streaming down my face as the yellow letters “ROCKY BALBOA” started to scroll across the screen with horns blaring the opening notes from “Gonna Fly Now.” Strange, yes, but I’m telling you the character of Rocky struck a chord with me that goes far and deep.
The obsession has never left me over the years and I’m still moved to this day whenever I watch the films, though the first is still my favorite. Even when it won Best Picture in 1976, the film itself was considered an underdog. It was low-budget and simplistic with an original script by the unknown, unemployed and struggling Sylvester Stallone. It ended up with ten nominations and three wins – Best Picture, Best Director and Best Film Editing.
Rocky teaches us that it isn’t about winning or losing, it’s about going the distance no matter what it takes, and that has translated into my daily life. The Husband will roll his eyes when I insist on doing things that there is no way we will “win” and I lecture him on the importance of going the distance, because that’s what truly matters. And sometimes, there is a win at the end. Though, fans of ROCKY know that he did not beat Apollo Creed in the first film, that is a common misconception with non-fans.
My favorite sports team stole my heart in 2003 with their underdog status. For years I have watched them go toe to toe with the toughest teams in the league, at times it has been very hard to watch. But I still supported them as long as they showed up ready to play. They have had some truly moving wins over the years but this will probably always be my favorite:
Though this one against the Chicago Blackhawks last night was pretty amazing too:
In the end, there’s a reason why we love an underdog. It is inspiring not only to see people beat the odds but almost more so just to see them taken on. Every day we are faced with things that seem impossible and pointless. We wonder if one voice matters among many and what the point is of doing something if the odds are stacked against us. The Husband says that I’m an idealist and that it isn’t worth wasting time on impractical things and that may be true. But really, you will never know what could happen if you don’t try going the distance. And when you do win, the victory always seems to taste sweeter.
There are a lot of things that I don’t remember about growing up, but I do remember my first best friend. She currently holds court from the dresser in my bedroom and made a cameo in my last blog post. The way I remember it, The Mother took me aside one evening and asked if I had any room in my bed that night. I asked if she needed a place to sleep and she said no she didn’t, but someone else did. And that began the relationship with me and Janis Evita that has lasted for more than 30 years.
As a girl, she traveled the country with me, had adventures with me and kept me company when I was blue. She underwent surgeries under The Mother’s gentle care and it was always vaguely traumatizing listening to the “THWACK! THWACK! THWACK!” she made when she was in the dryer. There was a tragic evening when was she was forgotten in my dad’s truck at the service station and I cried, worried about her alone that night and how scared she must be. But the way I remember it, my dad drove all the way back to retrieve her and everything was okay again.
According to Wikipedia, Cabbage Patch Kids were one of the most popular toys of the 1980s but I didn’t realize that when I was a kid, I just knew that no two were alike. Researching the Cabbage Patch now reveals how completely and utterly clueless I have been for my entire life about these dolls. I had no idea that there were characters that played a role in their story, or that they even had a story. Yes, I did notice that “Xavier Roberts” was tattooed on my dear dolly’s left butt cheek, but I didn’t know that he supposedly discovered the Cabbage Patch Kids being born in a magical valley behind a waterfall after following a “BunnyBee.” There was also an evil old woman named Lavendar McDade who wanted to enslave The Kids in her gold mine and was aided by two henchmen (Cabbage Jack and Beau Weasel), so Xavier desperately worked to get The Kids adopted outside of Mount Yonah. Mount Yonah? Did I live under a rock when I was a kid? How did I not know any of this?
In Mount Yonah, the cabbage patch blossoms were pollinated by BunnyBees who were bee-like creatures that used their rabbit ears as wings. Their magic crystals made Cabbage Patch babies who were looked after by Colonel Casey, the stork who oversaw Babyland General Hospital.
The original dolls were called “Little People” and were created by Xavier Roberts in 1978. Xavier had the help of four women (nameless on Wikipedia) and inspiration from a Tennessee artisan named Martha Nelson. The dolls were sold at craft fairs and were all cloth until they were licensed by Roger Schlaifer who co-authored the above “Legend of the Cabbage Patch Kids” with his wife in 1982.
The vinyl head as we know it today came to be when mass-production of the dolls began in 1982 by Coleco. Coleco manufactured the dolls until they filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1989 and since then, they have been mass-produced by Hasboro, Mattel, Toys R Us and now, by Play Along. Wikipedia reports that at the peak of their popularity, parents were periodically in fights over the dolls especially during the holiday season.
Janis Evita was not a Christmas gift. In fact, I don’t recall there being any special reason for The Mother to choose that evening to give her to me, but she became part of my life forever. She lost that one-of-a-kind Cabbage Patch smell decades ago, but I can still remember it when I press my nose against her yarn-loops of hair. Thank goodness for magic crystals pollinating cabbage patches by BunnyBees in the 1980s.
I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed our daily outings until my little Energizer Bunny couldn’t walk anymore. Mornings and evenings, rain or shine, we could usually be found pounding the pavement for a little exercise and fresh air. At times this was a chore to me. While I love my dog, sometimes the last thing you want to do is go for a walk; especially in the rain or on a cold winter night, which trust me, we’ve done.
We will never know for sure how he injured his leg, but we know how long the road to recovery has been. At first, I welcomed the break, there is always so much to do in a day and I could use some extra time. As months passed, however, I started to wonder if we would ever get to walk again. Watching him limp around the single block he was allowed, carrying him up steps, therapeutic stretching – it felt as though he was never going to get better. Now I watch him sprint down the street as we slowly add one block at a time, and I find myself smiling as I follow his little chicken legs down the sidewalk. My boy is making a comeback.
Our walks have changed now. I know that I’m projecting when I say that my dog is even more excited to go now than before. It is unlikely that he associated his injury with the months of confinement, and even more unlikely that he gave his injury any thought at all. I also know that it isn’t realistic to think that he’s trying to make the most of every outing because he never knows when a walk will be his last. But I look at them that way. Now his obnoxious insistence that we go, go, GO! brings a smile to my face. When he stops to smell every tree, I let him even though it’s slowing us down and making me late. For now I have my best friend back and I want to make the most of every moment. You never know how many walks you’ll get.