by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
May 21, 2001
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Our own personal comfort zone is built more by our associations than by anything we do to create it.
Because my brothers were military men, salesmen and truckdrivers all, I am comfortable with military men, salesmen and truck drivers. Because mysi= sters were working women and mothers, I am comfortable among working women and mothers, because my mother loved the arts, read and wrote poetry, I am comfortable in the company of artists and writers as well as the very enric= hing company of great books.
Because of my husband's career I am comfortable in the corporate world= of big business and, because of our children, I'm comfortable in universit= y clubs.
But, it's because of Papa, a salesman who loved horses, those magnificen= t thoroughbreds with thundering hooves racing eye-to-eye against equally ma= gnificent animals, that I use race track slang in teaching the wisdom of wi= nners, just as Papa taught me. It seems more to the point than some long t= reatise on the wisdom of focusing. You know, the "you can do it," philosop= hy.
I was 18, struggling with some competition or other, when Papa gently ad= vised me with words of wisdom from sage jockey Willie Shoemaker: "There ar= e one hundred and ninety nine ways to beat, but only one way to win: Get th= ere first." Willie and I were both born the same year!
Willie also said, "When you're riding, only the race in which you're rid= ing is important." That "fatherly" bit of advice taught me how to focus, w= ith Papa adding, "and don't you forget it."
Eddie Arcaro was the jockey I remember most. Papa would follow his races= and the horses he rode. In 1941, the world on the brink of war, there wa= s a celebration at our house when Arcaro rode Calumet Farm's Whirlaway over= the finish line winning the Kentucky Derby.
Then, in 1948 he rode Citation, another Calumet Farm entry, and Papa was= on his feet, slapping an imaginary crop to his side, straining to hear the= race called length by length over a little brown Philco radio. Citation l= ost a little ground while racing behind Coal Town, still another Calumet Fa= rm horse, but responded to Eddie Arcaro's steady hand and drew clear. Pap= a re-called that race to all comers that day when he told of how he knew Ar= caro couldn't lose.
In between Arcaro's Derby wins in 1941 and 1948, I developed Whooping Co= ugh and was kept out of school in semi-quarantine for four months. After t= he first month of whooping and coloring and reading comics, I was bored bey= ond belief. Papa said, "Let's go to Belmont."
Although technically still recuperating, I was fine and free of symptoms= . In the '40s, with contagion little understood and highly feared, retur= ning to school was not an option. The April sun was bright and warming and= I was happy. Papa stood next to my bleacher seat looking through binocula= rs at the horses ambling about. He never placed a bet; to my knowledge, he= did not know a bookie.
It came as a surprise when a stern-looking woman made her way into our a= isle and asked, not too quietly, "May I ask why this child is not in school= ?" She took us by such surprise Papa just said, "She has off today." The= truant officer.
Oh, boy. I could feel my eyes widen and my face pale. The woman consul= ted a sheaf of papers and at the same time asked which school. Unfortunate= ly for me, she also had a list of parochial schools and it was not an appro= ved day off.
Papa and I started out of the aisle, yellow slip in hand, ready to face school officials and try to explain our situation. He had offered no expla= nation at the moment of confrontation and it became his turn to pale when I= said: "Papa, why don't you just tell her I have whooping cough?"
He scooted me along faster as racing fans started saying, "Whooping c= ough? Whooping cough? Isn't that contagious?"
"And, they're off," came the roaring announcement. My father added a sh= oulder grip to the scoot as we made our way to the exit. I don't know if a= nything came of all that, authority wise, but I never went to the track aga= in.
Not only did I take to slang, but also the idea of starting early protec= ting what we'll need later. A small example is my having been the only one= in second grade still wearing high-topped shoes.
"You have to develop strong ankles," he'd say. And, I now acknowledge, though not quite out to pasture, I have very strong ankles. Fortunately, he= didn't also tape them!
On June 9th, I'll watch the Belmont Stakes, known as "The Test of the Ch= ampion," and for good reasons. It's the oldest and most demanding leg of t= he Triple Crown, the longest of the three races and the most coveted win in= Thoroughbred racing. I'll scan the park for the bleachers we shuffled fro= m one bright April day.
All this came to me today as I watched the Preakness and heard the race announcer's voice intone, "... and the winner is Point Given!" I thought o= f my father, and I had to say, "Papa, point taken."
It was a comforting thought.