Sunday, March 27, 2011

The one and only...

"He should have lived in a different generation," said Anna. She said this after our inspection of a storage cellar on Grandpa's property. I agree. He is the ultimate survivalist, my Grandpa Hansen. A quick survey of his ranch, which I think more and more of as a compound, would show he and Grandma are pretty close to living off the grid. With the help of Rafael, a friend Grandpa met in Mexico, he built his home, barn, garage, gazebo, storage shelters water tank, and turtle farm. Oh, and there was a '72 three-quarter ton Ford pick-up to haul supplies. One day that pick-up was given to me. I rumbled to and from ASU in it my freshman year. But in it's practical days, that truck was the legs for Rafael and Grandpa. And they worked hard.

The house is made of walls three feet thick filled with dirt from the ground. With a white stucco exterior and red tile roof, it has a unique mexican/home-made look to it. One hundred feet south of the house, Rafael and Grandpa erected a parking garage from huge timber logs. There is a steel corrugated roof to supply shade to the garage. Underneath you can fit two dune-buggies, a truck, a minivan, a volkswagon bus, a honda accord, another small pick-up, and two ATC's. On the sides of the posts multiple tools hang. Grandpa knows the EXACT location of each tool. This is constantly amazing to me since I frequently lose books I'm reading in my own 400 square foot apartment. But, I'm no survivalist.

Yet another 100 feet south of the parking garage is the previously mentioned storage cellar in the earth. With a 3-foot high ceiling you could probably fit five people inside. To this day I'm not sure what it's for. Just make sure to remove the rattlesnakes cooped up inside before you venture in for a nap. As for a future hiding spot in capture the flag, I think I know where I'm headed.

If you travel back to the house and a little northeast, you'll come to the gazebo. This gazebo puts the dainty ones you see in English films to shame. It's made of a massive cement foundation. Underneath lies another storage cellar. Above lies a deck you can reach by way of a windy stair case. I've seen countless shooting stars on that deck and consider it my favorite place on the ranch.

If you look in the southwest direction while on top of the gazebo, you'll see another building shrouded in pine trees. The pine trees are the remains of a farm Grandpa once started. Three of their progeny are standing tall in our old yard in Mesa, AZ. They too are survivalists. But it is to this building you must never go if visiting the Ranch. It's off limits. I once took Anna when she was my fiance to this building while Granpda was in it and he nearly disowned me. (He would never disown me, I promise) But we won't discuss that building. It serves a purpose and that's all that need to be said.

Finally, directly east of his home is a wash with a network of trails. Me and the cousins have spent hundreds of hours speeding around those washes on Grandpa's ATC's. We've built bonfires. We've camped out. We've watched in horrific awe during the monsoons as the wash runs like the raging Colorado. And we've hunted jackrabbits in the wash. I think one of my favorite memories was when Anna stepped on a tarantula in the wash. All three of us got a fright. The tarantula lived. Oh, and just ask my sisters about "The Expedition" in the wash. A great family story.
So that's the essence of the ranch built by Rafael and Grandpa, more or less. As an aside, Rafael was involved in exciting episodes in Grandpa's life involving illegal alien smugglings. If you ever ask Grandpa whether he has spent a night in a Mexican prison, he'd be lying if he didn't say "si."

But...he's a survivalist, and life finds a way. And it was life finding a way that took Grandpa away from maybe becoming that survivalist who spends his days in the mountains in a van. No, life found it's way into Grandpa's life. He met Maurine. And they got married and had eight kids. Along with my Dad, most of the others have provided me with love, room, and board at various times of my youth. So, I quickly learned that when I want the familiar comforts such as love, room, or board, I can turn to Dad, or Mom, or anyone of my aunts and uncles. But when I want a "unique" experience, really a one-of-a-kind experience, I just have to visit Grandpa and Grandma out on their ranch.

I'm convinced no other grandchild has, or will ever have, the experiences I've had with them. I could write for hundreds of pages the memories we share and treasure, all unique in the very familiar grandparent-grandchild system. Yesterday, Anna and I participated in Grandpa the Survivalist at his best. He gave us yet another unique, cherished memory. It was the "Raising of the Ocotillo," as my aunt from Oregon called it.

To establish the setting for the memory, I will mention that last year it rained much in Arizona. As a result, a huge Century plant sprouted up near the gazebo. It was so big it captured my Grandpa's heart. And a little while back it collapsed, as most century plants do with time. The survivalist in Grandpa jumped to action and he determined to stand the plant upright again on a weekend when all his daughters were in town to visit. With Grandpa as foreman, he directed three clumps of aunts at the base of three guy wires to lift up the century plant and stake it upright in the ground again. I'll never forget watching up on the gazebo as my aunts, and mom, shuffled to and fro under the directions of Grandpa to raise the ocotillo back to life. On the way home that afternoon I mentioned to Anna, "I still don't know why he wanted to raise the plant back up." But I don't care, I guess. It was unique. It was Grandpa. It was family!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Drunk on Laurel

If you come to Tucson today we'd take you out on a bike ride. Pick any road with a bike lane and landscaped median and you'll encounter rows of Texas Mountain Laurel trees, in bloom. You don't have to see them to know you're passing them. I've never been to a winery but I imagine the aroma is similar to these trees.

Saturday morning I was out riding, drunk on the smell of Laurel flowers. The flowers, which happen to resemble clumps of grapes on the vine, are poisonous. So don't eat any if you run out of cliff bars. Or at least give them to your competition. But out I was riding, swerving in and out of the bike lane. I usually swerve while checking out my chiseled calf muscles. This time I was swerving because I was quite drunk on Laurel flower goodness. But I took control of my handlebars the moment I imagined myself telling the ED doctors, who I probably know, the reason I crashed was because I was "smelling flowers." I made it safely home.

But the damage was done. I was imbibed for the day. How else can you explain a mature adult charging his mature wife with two light sabers inside Michael's craft store that evening? After some quick strokes of death Anna and I turned around to hear a worker down the aisle say to her colleague, "They're not kids." Apparently the worker's wage was enough to get her to tell kids to stop horsing around, but not adults. So the worker just walked away with a justly dealt scowl on her face. As we walked out the store I asked Anna, "What's more demeaning to our pride, hearing: 'Oh, they're just kids' or 'Oh, they're not kids' ?" To me it doesn't matter, I was drunk and I blamed it on the Laurels. Come ride in Tucson with us for a good time...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Warmth of Other "Suns"

Grant Hill’s Response to Jalen Rose

Grant Hill currently plays for the Phoenix Suns.Associated PressGrant Hill currently plays for the Phoenix Suns.

“The Fab Five,” an ESPN film about the Michigan basketball careers of Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Chris Webber, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson from 1991 to 1993, was broadcast for the first time Sunday night. In the show, Rose, the show’s executive producer, stated that Duke recruited only black players he considered to be “Uncle Toms.” Grant Hill, a player on the Duke team that beat Michigan in the 1992 Final Four, reflected on Rose’s comments.

I am a fan, friend and longtime competitor of the Fab Five. I have competed against Jalen Rose and Chris Webber since the age of 13. At Michigan, the Fab Five represented a cultural phenomenon that impacted the country in a permanent and positive way. The very idea of the Fab Five elicited pride and promise in much the same way the Georgetown teams did in the mid-1980s when I was in high school and idolized them. Their journey from youthful icons to successful men today is a road map for so many young, black men (and women) who saw their journey through the powerful documentary, “The Fab Five.”

It was a sad and somewhat pathetic turn of events, therefore, to see friends narrating this interesting documentary about their moment in time and calling me a bitch and worse, calling all black players at Duke “Uncle Toms” and, to some degree, disparaging my parents for their education, work ethic and commitment to each other and to me. I should have guessed there was something regrettable in the documentary when I received a Twitter apology from Jalen before its premiere. I am aware Jalen has gone to some length to explain his remarks about my family in numerous interviews, so I believe he has some admiration for them.

In his garbled but sweeping comment that Duke recruits only “black players that were ‘Uncle Toms,’ ” Jalen seems to change the usual meaning of those very vitriolic words into his own meaning, i.e., blacks from two-parent, middle-class families. He leaves us all guessing exactly what he believes today.

I am beyond fortunate to have two parents who are still working well into their 60s. They received great educations and use them every day. My parents taught me a personal ethic I try to live by and pass on to my children.

I come from a strong legacy of black Americans. My namesake, Henry Hill, my father’s father, was a day laborer in Baltimore. He could not read or write until he was taught to do so by my grandmother. His first present to my dad was a set of encyclopedias, which I now have. He wanted his only child, my father, to have a good education, so he made numerous sacrifices to see that he got an education, including attending Yale.

This is part of our great tradition as black Americans. We aspire for the best or better for our children and work hard to make that happen for them. Jalen’s mother is part of our great black tradition and made the same sacrifices for him.

My teammates at Duke — all of them, black and white — were a band of brothers who came together to play at the highest level for the best coach in basketball. I know most of the black players who preceded and followed me at Duke. They all contribute to our tradition of excellence on the court.

It is insulting and ignorant to suggest that men like Johnny Dawkins (coach at Stanford), Tommy Amaker (coach at Harvard), Billy King (general manager of the Nets), Tony Lang (coach of the Mitsubishi Diamond Dolphins in Japan), Thomas Hill (small-business owner in Texas), Jeff Capel (former coach at Oklahoma and Virginia Commonwealth), Kenny Blakeney (assistant coach at Harvard), Jay Williams (ESPN analyst), Shane Battier (Memphis Grizzlies) and Chris Duhon (Orlando Magic) ever sold out their race.

To hint that those who grew up in a household with a mother and father are somehow less black than those who did not is beyond ridiculous. All of us are extremely proud of the current Duke team, especially Nolan Smith. He was raised by his mother, plays in memory of his late father and carries himself with the pride and confidence that they instilled in him.

The sacrifice, the effort, the education and the friendships I experienced in my four years are cherished. The many Duke graduates I have met around the world are also my “family,” and they are a special group of people. A good education is a privilege.

Just as Jalen has founded a charter school in Michigan, we are expected to use our education to help others, to improve life for those who need our assistance and to use the excellent education we have received to better the world.

A highlight of my time at Duke was getting to know the great John Hope Franklin, James B. Duke Professor of History and the leading scholar of the last century on the total history of African-Americans in this country. His insights and perspectives contributed significantly to my overall development and helped me understand myself, my forefathers and my place in the world.

Ad ingenium faciendum, toward the building of character, is a phrase I recently heard. To me, it is the essence of an educational experience. Struggling, succeeding, trying again and having fun within a nurturing but competitive environment built character in all of us, including every black graduate of Duke.

My mother always says, “You can live without Chaucer and you can live without calculus, but you cannot make it in the wide, wide world without common sense.” As we get older, we understand the importance of these words. Adulthood is nothing but a series of choices: you can say yes or no, but you cannot avoid saying one or the other. In the end, those who are successful are those who adjust and adapt to the decisions they have made and make the best of them.

I caution my fabulous five friends to avoid stereotyping me and others they do not know in much the same way so many people stereotyped them back then for their appearance and swagger. I wish for you the restoration of the bond that made you friends, brothers and icons.

I am proud of my family. I am proud of my Duke championships and all my Duke teammates. And, I am proud I never lost a game against the Fab Five.

Grant Henry Hill
Phoenix Suns
Duke ‘94

Sunday, March 13, 2011

half full or empty

Tucson. Enough to dislike here in the hot Southwest. Gangs, drug conflicts, human trafficking, apartment hostilities, and more. I mentioned to Anna how we live in an "R" rated city. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see or hear the evidence. In fact, it would be quite easy to drive through Tucson and call it the armpit of the Southwest. But it would be a lie, mainly. I have some perspective because I've been in arguably the largest, poorest neighborhood on the planet. But even in that poor neighborhood there is beauty. It was only there when I wanted it.

President Uchtdorf teaches this principle in this month's Ensign:

"Have you ever noticed that people can usually find whatever they are looking for? Look hard enough, and you can discover both good and bad in almost anyone and anything."

Have you ever read "The Hiding Place?" Talk about discovering good in anything, the author finds the good in head lice. Anna has a gift of doing things like that. (She nor I have head lice) And it's a gift I'm trying to work on. Luckily, I live in Tucson, which is the perfect laboratory for my experiment in finding good in head lice. Take yesterday...

I went for a morning jog through a residential neighborhood. The air was cool, the sun shining, and the doves singing their winter tunes. Bikers were out exercising and people were out walking to their farmer's markets. The saguaros were standing tall and it just smelled like desert goodness. A great day. But it got better when fifty feet in front of me two bobcats crossed the road. They just walked right through people's yards, oblivious to human activity. Gorgeous.
After the run, we went to the Tucson Book Festival and heard Frank Deford talk about sports writing. A writer talking about sports. Here's a man whose occupation is my avocation. What a treat! Tucson is good in this way, collecting the right people to cater to the interests of this polymathematic populace. The Gem and Mineral Show is another example of Tucsons' knack at culture building. So even though we don't have much city landscaping to speak of, we have our books and rocks. And that's why life is good in Tucson. We get our feet dusty in our daily work. How can you not love that intimacy with mother earth? Call it "lice in the hair" logic, but it makes life enjoyable.

I respect the contrasts in Tucson. We have droughts. We have floods. We have the nicest people on the planet. We have the meanest. We have illegals. We have legals. We have rich and poor. We have old and young. We have pot holes and smooth roads. We have a "Stone Avenue," a street that lives up to it's name for it's lucrative trade. Just ask my brother-in-law Dan, who got a flat tire on his bike on that road one day. It's a bit sketchy. My favorite contrast of all is found on a sign near our home where we do none of our shopping.
But the daily life in Tucson is wonderful, and growing on me. So if you call it an armpit, please note it's application of deodarant. And if you hang out long enough to smell it, you'll discover you like it too. We may not have the best family foods here, but if you are looking at the good in this, you'll see that here in Tucson, family is first. Goodnight.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

What the Dickens?

We drove right past a book lying in the middle of a three lane road this afternoon. It was straddling two lanes, so I thought we could turn around and grab it, no problem. When I told Anna my plan I was sure eyes would roll. I do nonsensical things like this on impulse. But I like it for the variety it can add to the moment. It's just not always polite to make someone else go along with my impulses. Anna is long-suffering...

I turned the car around to get the book and here is where the plot thickened. I said, "It's probably a Dickens' novel." I then shared a story with Anna about an army general in the 1860's who wrote to Dickens while he was out fighting Indians and Texans in the West. I shared the story as a way to offer some sort of distraction for Anna while we were headed back to pick up what was probably a New World Bible.

The Dickens story in itself is a good one. The army general, an aspiring novelist, wanted to visit Dickens in London if he ever came over to discuss writing advice. So he asked Dickens in a letter. The amazing thing, I thought, was Dickens wrote back. The general received the letter out on his Indian campaign and was probably put out to have Dickens advise him to stay home and write about home. And as for visiting him, Dickens said no. As an aside, it was this same army general, James Carleton, who was sent to survey and report on the Mountain Meadows Massacre. He never recovered from the experience and retired from his campaigns out West haunted from the brutality of frontier life.

By this time we had arrived at the book. Checking my rear view I saw it was safe to slow down and I opened my door to pick up the book. And there, laying in the middle of the road in the desert out West was "A Tale of Two Cities."