Lessons From Yorktown, Nikita’s shoe, and Riding the Pine


Saturday 3:45 PM: I sit in the bleachers. My 12 year-old son is yet to leave the bench, his team is down twenty points, and it’s the beginning of the fourth quarter.  It’s the third basketball game of the season, the first that I’m in town to see.

Marky practiced all summer to make the team. We planned, worked, and prayed together to get him the jersey. The coach calls “time out” and the team hops up to huddle around his little white clipboard. Marky glances across the court at me. I give him a hopeful thumbs-up. Time out ends. The same five sixth graders run back out onto the court. Marky hangs his head. Tears. He can’t even look up at me in the stands. Shame.

My truck, an orange ’77 Ford, waited in the parking lot. I figured it would be the place where I’d soon deliver the speech already composing itself in my head. With 5:19 left the coach put in a new 5. Marky was with them. I was still writing the speech, but it would change from the original version.

History.com noted that this week in history Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier. He was dropped mid flight from a B-29 bomber before firing his own rocket engine and cresting 662 mph. The ground crew was surprised by a “strange bang” that they heard when he entered heretofore uncharted territory. Courage.

(We’d eventually come to know that “strange bang” as a sonic boom)

Also around this week in 1960, Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Premier, reportedly removed his shoe and banged it on the table during a Plenary Meeting of the UN General Assembly. Anger.

“I’ll show you Kuskin’s Mother!” he yelled, over and over. (Luckily, I couldn’t find a colloquial translation of “Kuskin’s Mother”). The in-house translator put it as, “I will bury you” with quintessential Russian dryness.

Two years later, same week, the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the U.S. closer than ever to receiving a nuclear attack. History would teach us that the Soviets had already stashed 42 nuclear warheads in Cuba about which we knew nothing until years later. Kennedy kept his poker face under mounting national pressure, and Khruschev (the same man that banged his shoe on the table) withdrew his ships from Cuba. Crisis averted. Patience.

This week in 1781 at Yorktown, General George Washington and Rochambeau, pressed the matter and forced Lord Cornwallis to surrender wholesale, after two days of negotiation and capitulation. Cornwallis asked that American Loyalists be given immunity. Washington flatly refused. Loyalty.

To belabor the point, also this week… Martin Luther King Jr. and Mikhail Gorbachev received Nobel Peace Prizes, Saddam Hussein won a Presidential election with over 99% of the vote, The Million Man March, Mao Zedong led an army on the Long March- which cemented his place as the eventually Chairman of the Communist Party in China…

I watched Marky spring from the bench, tears now gone. The game was lost for all intensive purposes, but not to the five that just took the floor. He rifled a football style pass down court. Assist. He fired up a two three pointers… both hit the rim and bounced out. He drove to the hoop once, and missed a lay up. With 10 seconds left, still down 20 points, he stole an inbounds pass made an assist. Time ran out. He fought till the last second. Hope.

Above is the long version of the speech that was written in my head, but here was what I really hoped to get across.

Good guys and bad guys win in history. Good guys and bad guys lose in history. But the people we remember ALWAYS took action. To those men, taking action was more valuable than life itself. (I use girl’s in my daughter’s pep talks).

Below is what actually happened after the game.

Marky jogged over to me. I kissed his sweaty head and whacked him on the butt.

“I’m proud of you son.”

“Dad, I have to go to Parker’s to finish my integers project. Mrs. Bernard gave us a D minus and a redo.”

“Alright buddy.”

And here was what my pep talk turned into… As we walked out to Parker’s mom’s car.

“Guys, no matter how badly they kicked your trash on the basketball court… If you  learn to kick their’s in math, you’ll be the winner in the long run. Love you bud.”

I drove home alone.  


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