A Year with Sir Terry Pratchett

March 16, 2015

It’s been four days. That’s about right. Any sooner would seem creepy, but to wait longer just wouldn’t feel right.

Four days ago, I joined the rest of the world and said goodbye to Sir Terry Pratchett. I never met Sir Terry, although one of my students did at an Atlanta book signing 20 years ago. She had him sign a book to me, and it’s one of my most cherished possessions.

This isn’t my homage to the man. I never knew the man, (I did like his hat) only his work, and specifically his Discworld novels. I bought The Colour of Magic in 1987, read it in one sitting, and was hooked. I purchased almost all of them, and when we moved to Connecticut ten years ago, I left most of my books in storage, but I brought my Discworld collection, and I’ve added to it. As an educator, I gave Sir Terry Pratchett the greatest honor I could: I never tried to teach one of his works. They weren’t made to be taught. Lord of the Flies is made to be taught. Poor Piggy. The Discworld novels served a higher, more personal purpose, to illuminate our world with high humor, and when you least expected it, rake with some unexpected wisdom or altogether unlooked for insight. Granny Weatherwax slashed across my soul like lightning. These books left marks, like scars from some painful but humorous tale involving pirates and 5-year-olds.

So today, I begin my Year with Sir Terry. I was going to start a website, but I couldn’t afford it. Does anybody blog anymore? Writing a blog is starting to sound like learning how to shoe horses. None of that. I’m starting over, reading his works again in more or less the same order that I went through them the first time. A year with Sir Terry. That’s a year well spent, and at the end, his last work will be waiting for me: The Shepherd’s Crown, final setting for Ms. Tiffany Aching. I’ll miss her.

I miss him already.

terry phone books 015

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Swamp Bunny

One morning last May, I stumbled into the kitchen, past the back door, stopped, backed up, and gazed through the glass. In the backyard staring at me, was a visitor. Then my son Joey, walking with his eyes closed, strolled into my back.

“What are you looking at?” He asked.

“We have a friend in the backyard,” I said.

Our visitor was a rabbit. He sat there staring at us, nibbling on grass, as patient as the dew.

“Hey Bunny,” said Joey. “Can I have pancakes for breakfast?”

Now, I know that the world can be dull and commonplace, so I have taken it upon myself to add some wonder and high adventure wherever possible, so that my son does not take for granted the thousand little miracles we see every day. I decided to provide our lupine guest with a more personal history. Continue reading

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Science!

Let me tell you about middle school science projects. When I was a kid in a small town in Tennessee back in the long ago, science wasn’t held in the same reverence it is in 2014. Our projects were constrained by our parents, history and church, so things like evolution, dinosaurs, and any place outside of the Confederacy being the center of the universe were not considered proper discussion topics, and had no place being pinned to a sheet of white poster board and presented as fact. Times have changed…in some places. Consider the following, which took place just last April.

“I had to do a science project for school,” said my son, Joey. “It’s part of the Common Core.”

“Great,” I said. “So when do we get started on it?”

“Get started?” he muttered. “I finished it yesterday.”

Continue reading

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The perfect weight for a sasquatch.

I am not the man I used to be, because I didn’t like going upstairs.

On a good day I would make three trips upstairs. I didn’t like going upstairs. It was work, and all my toys were downstairs.

But one cold January day, when I got the top of the stairs on trip number 2, I shuffled over to the bed to take a nap. My wife was concerned.

“You know, you really shouldn’t get so out of breath from just walking up the steps,” she said.

“I was carrying something,” I gasped.

“You’re carrying a diet coke,” she replied. “You just don’t sound right. When is the last time you went to the doctor for a physical?”

I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I’d been to the doctor for a physical. Physicals are dangerous. You can discover all manner of bad things when you get a physical, so I’d been in the habit of only going to the doctor if I had a specific ailment, like the time I fell and shattered my elbow. Then there was an episode when my left leg began to swell below the knee. I went to my doctor, he looked at it, mumbled something along the lines of “That is weird,” and sent me home. But swollen legs and broken elbows are one thing. Trouble breathing could potentially be really bad.

Nancy made the appointment, and for the next seven days I experienced a severe case of the condition I call Schrödinger’s flu. Schrödinger’s flu strikes a lot of people my age. In case you haven’t heard of it, Schrödinger’s flu means that until a doctor puts a precise label on a condition, there is a chance the condition isn’t serious. Has a black mole with its own moustache just popped up on your shoulder? Well, until a doctor says the word “cancer” that mole could be a displaced temporal birthmark. Yeah, that’s what it is, a birthmark that got lost in the time stream and waited 54 years to appear. If you can ignore the moustache, you can convince yourself that that’s the sort of thing that happens all the time.

I had to get a chest x-ray and blood work done, and the results were sent to my doctor. I also went on a five-day crash diet, you know, so I wouldn’t weigh too much. I lost about 10 pounds and the ability to concentrate. One week later, I sat on the edge of one of those uncomfortable chair/sofas that is in every doctor’s office and waited for the bad news. What really strikes me about a doctor’s office is how clean it is. I felt like the only thing dirty in that room was whatever incurable condition I had brought with me. The doctor came in with my chart and scanned the results.

“Well, Mr. Hargrove, I have the results of your lab work.”

“And?”

“For an individual who has terrible eating habits and never works out, you are in remarkably good shape.”

“All right! That’s great news doc. Can I go home now?”

“Not just yet,” he said. “Did you see how much you weighed? 273 pounds. A person of your height should weigh no more than 183 pounds, and that’s the upper limit of normal weight for person your height. Normal height for a person with your weight is a shade over 9 feet, unless he is a sasquatch.”

“Well, I’m not a sasquatch,” I replied. “I’m a democrat. Sure, I’ve put on a few pounds, but so has everyone my age. I mean, it’s not like I’m obese, right?”

“No, no, you’re not obese,” he said. “In fact, you’d have to LOSE 40 pounds to be obese. You are progressively obese. I think next stage is severely obese, and after that you’ve got to remove a wall of your house to go to the bathroom, and, if you’re lucky, you’re on Oprah.”

“Okay,” I sighed. “So you’re saying that I need to lose some weight. I can do that. I’ve never been on a diet before. Are you thinking gastric bypass? Gypsy curse? Sensa? Oil of banded loon?”

“No, no, no, and I told you when your leg swelled, there is no such thing as oil of banded loon. I don’t think there’s anything here that can’t be fixed by making a few small adjustments to your diet and daily routine. A person your age should be able to get by on 1500 calories.”

“Per meal?”

“Per day. Now, I want to take this list home and look over the things that you should be eating as opposed to the things that you have been eating. Your blood sugar level isn’t high, but it’s trending that way, and so is your cholesterol. And you will need to start an exercise routine. Don’t start running, at least not right away. Find time to walk 30-35 minutes, five times a week. And a little weight training and some cardio. Your heart is fine and your lungs are fine. You just need to start using them more than you have been. You know, one of the great things about the human body is that the moment you start doing something with it, it responds. So go home and do something. Generate a response.”

What a miserable prognosis—diet and exercise. But he was right. I decided that my exercise routine would contain nothing I couldn’t continue to do until I was 80, so I started walking/strolling on the treadmill 40 minutes a day, and lifted some barbells. Since no one was looking, I started with the small pink 5-pound ones that I bought for Nancy, but gradually worked my way up to the 10 and 20 pound weights that are a manly black. 20 minutes of weights and 40 minutes of walking was all I needed. I bade a sad farewell to fast food breakfast sandwiches and started each day with oatmeal and fruit instead.

That was January, 2012. This morning, I weighed in at 202. I’m still 19 pounds away from my ideal weight, and I console myself with the knowledge that I’m a good weight for somebody who is 6’9”. Who knows, maybe I’ll have a growth spurt.

I haven’t had an episode of Schrodinger’s flu for over a year, and I am determined never to get back to 273. Or was it 283? Thin guys like me struggle with math, but you never hear Dr. Oz mention that, do you? It doesn’t matter. I make over 10 trips upstairs a day. Who knows? I just might start moving some of my toys up there.  

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