CHAMPIONS IN GOD’S EYES: The Ironmen of Eagle River (Part 4)

AUTHOR’S NOTE: For those who miss high school basketball and love an inspiring story, I am serializing the first chapter of my novel, “Champions In God’s Eyes: The Ironmen of Eagle River,” on over the first five days of July. If you missed the beginning, click on PART 1. I hope you enjoy it (and if you’ve already read it, please leave a review on AMAZON).

PREVIOUSLY IN PART 3: Cameron Carpenter began reading the journal he wrote in 1974 to deal with the loss of his father. Chronicling his freshman basketball season, he writes of his dislike of his new hometown, the first week of tryouts, and his meeting a new friend, Luke Garrison.

Cameron Carpenter’s Journal (1974-75)

Monday, November 25

Dad, did you ever have one of those days?

It started out pretty good. Got an A on my history test and sat with Luke and some of the guys at lunch. They couldn’t believe I toasted Luke one-on-one and were giving him a bad time. He was cool, probably because he could toast all of them. I was thinking Eagle River isn’t such a bad place after all.

Then some smart-ass asked if my mom was the new janitor. It’s not a secret or anything, but I’m not getting on the PA and broadcasting it. So when I told him yeah, he had to add some wisecrack. Stupid. You don’t make fun of a guy’s mom. Do that on the playground and they’ll be calling an ambulance for you. Moms are off-limits, except for Yo Momma jokes, of course.

I asked him nicely to shut up. He didn’t. So I decked him. You’d have thought nobody ever got in a fight around here. I was only going to hit him once, maybe twice. Okay, maybe I was going to beat the living S out of the jerk. Fortunately, Luke grabbed me around the arms. He’s stronger than I thought. But I made my point. The kid didn’t want to fight anyway, so what’s the big deal?

Next thing I know, I’m in the principal’s office, and she’s telling me it is a big deal.

“Cameron, we know you’ve been through a lot, but we don’t get into fights at Eagle River,” she said. She talked some more, but I wasn’t paying any attention. Glad I’m fitting in real well.

When I got out of there, Luke was the first one to come over. He said the jerk deserved it. Glad somebody is on my side. For the rest of the day, everybody else looked at me like I was some kind of freak. Well, if they say something, I’ll deck them too. Sorry, Dad, but sometimes I just want to explode.

Even practice sucked. Wartman did his usual screaming act. “Quit playing ghetto ball!” Better than boring ball. I was getting ticked, and I guess he was too. So when I did a behind-the-back pass, he pulled me out. “Take a seat on the bench, show-off!” he yelled.

I was steaming. If I hadn’t already decked one jerk today…

So instead of kicking the S out of him, I kicked a ball into the stands. And Wartman kicked me out of practice. I guess that’s better than going to juvie.

When I got home, Mom asked how my day went. I told her fine. Don’t know if she heard from the school about my fight, but she just said, “Okay,” and then left to clean the school.

I wish she had another job.

Wednesday, November 27

Dad, I caught Mom crying today. I got home a little early from practice, and she was in her bedroom wiping her eyes. When I asked what was wrong, she shook her head and said everything was fine.

But I knew what it was.

After she left to clean up the school, I went into her room. When you were still with us, it made me feel good when I was home alone and went into your bedroom. It always felt warm and even smelled snug, like the two of you hugging me. I just felt safe. Like if a 747 crashed down on our house and destroyed everything else, your room would somehow still be standing.

But Mom’s room doesn’t feel that way. Maybe it’s the old mobile home we live in. Grandpa said it was cheap rent, and it’s across the parking lot from school, so it’s close for Mom and me. But it isn’t our old house.

When I looked around Mom’s bedroom, I saw what made her cry. Her dresser was open, and your sweaters were there. You always joked about how sweaters made you look like Mr. Rogers. Of course, nobody needs sweaters in L.A., but you liked them, so Mom kept them. I guess she’s still keeping them.

I picked one up and held it close. All I could think of was…

I’m sorry, Dad. I don’t feel much like writing anymore.

Thursday, November 28

Happy Thanksgiving, Dad.

We spent the day at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, something I’d never done before. I can only remember Thanksgivings alone with Mom since you were always working. “Crime doesn’t take a holiday,” you used to say. I think you stole that from one of your old Mickey Spillane paperbacks.

Grandma made a delicious turkey with gravy and stuffing, and I stuffed my face. I’ll definitely need to do some extra running in practice to work it off.  It was great, but it wasn’t the same.

Our traditional Thanksgiving meal used to be Mom and me eating grilled cheese sandwiches, and that was good enough. Why make a big turkey dinner for just the two of us? A day or two later, you would take us out for Chinese or Italian just to make Mom feel better. Of course, she never complained. The life of a cop’s wife, I guess.

But when Mom and I came home tonight, I wasn’t in a thanksgiving mood. I told her I was tired and just felt like hitting the sack early, but I think she knew. She sat on my bed like she did when I was little and asked if I was doing okay.

My mouth said, “Yeah,” but my eyes said, “No.” She got teary-eyed too.

“It’s all right to miss him,” she said. “I miss him too.”

I wanted to ask her how she keeps going every day. Why isn’t she mad at the world? Why doesn’t she scream at the top of her lungs and take a fist to every door in the house?

But I didn’t say anything. She just smiled and wiped the hair out of my eyes. Then she gave me a goodnight kiss. And I was alone again. Me and this stupid journal.

Yeah, happy Thanksgiving, Cameron.

Saturday, November 30

Dad, please explain to me why it rains all the time in Washington? Mom warned me about it since she grew up here. All the brothers laughed about how it would wash away my white skin and underneath they’d find another brother.

I miss Honey and all the others at the Beach. Seems like I miss L.A. the most on Saturdays. It was our time together—you and me walking around the courts, checking out all the rookies and laughing at the old-timers.

That was where I belonged. That’s where I belong now. Instead, I’m sitting in my little room in an old trailer in some Podunk town called Eagle River, Washington, looking out at the darkest skies you’ve ever seen, wondering what the heck I’m doing here.

Grandpa calls LA a living hell because people are always getting killed there. Even you admitted it wasn’t the best place to live. You used to talk about moving to Hawaii, maybe joining the Five-O. You said, “It’s as hot as LA, and it’s easier to beat the Hawaiians in hoops than to beat the brothers.” For sure.

So why am I here?

When I went to Bloody Omaha to say goodbye, Honey told me, “The Good Lord Almighty must have something special in mind to make you go through all this.”

If the Good Lord is so almighty, why is He making me go through all this? At least He could stop it from raining.

Sunday, December 1

Dad, it happened again. Grandpa couldn’t leave things alone and said some stuff. Mom got mad, and we’re back home again.

I love Grandpa, and now I see him and Grandma all the time instead of just a week in the summer. But he’s always got to remind Mom about moving to LA. I don’t get it. It’s like there’s something under the surface, something they don’t say out loud because “the kid’s around.”

“The best thing that happened to you was getting out of there,” Grandpa said to Mom. And he started sucking on that old pipe of his. Every time he gets in a fight with Mom, he starts sucking harder.

Mom wouldn’t let it go. “Yeah, and the best thing to happen to me was being left alone with a fifteen-year-old kid in this hick town.”

“You know I just meant…” Grandpa started.

Grandma tried to be the peacemaker just like you did when there was a fight at the Beach.

“Now, Sonja, you know you’re not alone,” she said. “You’ve got us here.”

Mom didn’t back down. You know her. “You hated California. You hated his job. You hated…” She stopped and looked at me. “Come on, Cameron, let’s go home.” And off we went.

When we got home, I could tell Mom wanted to cry. I borrowed the keys to the gym and shot around for about an hour. Don’t want to get rusty, you know. At least that’s what I told Mom. It’s easier than thinking about my pathetic life.

Okay, stop feeling sorry for yourself, Cameron. Maybe I should think of something a little more cheerful.

At least it’s not raining.

We did go to church today. Mom and I hadn’t gone since…well, besides the funeral…probably since Easter or maybe Christmas. I think Mom wanted to go more often, but she knew you weren’t crazy about it. Anyway, we went to the Eagle River Community Church. It was small, but it was all right. I don’t mind getting dressed up once in a while. It makes Mom feel good. And the pastor got into it. He talked about giving your all and running the race. It’s just that the sermon got a little long—a “marathon,” if you know what I mean. (Funny guy, Cam.)

The pastor even knew who I was. He wished me luck with basketball and told Mom to call if there was anything their family could do to help. I think he knew me because his son is a manager with the varsity. He’s a brother—the only one in the school. I don’t know his name, but you can’t miss him. He’s six feet five. I can’t believe he’s not playing ball.

I wonder what his problem is.

Mom said we might go again next week. Sure, if it makes her feel better. Hey, I don’t want to get her mad at me.

Continue to PART 5

For a signed copy of the book, e-mail or click on SIGNED COPY. You also can order it online or find it at your local book stores.

Jim Carberry of Whatcom Hoops

Jim Carberry is a former Bellingham Herald sports editor and author of several books on Whatcom County prep basketball. Follow him on Twitter @whatcomhoops and visit the Whatcom Hoops Facebook page.

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