Coming back after years of exile, Willie sees a revolution: “Who would have imagined, fifteen years ago, that you’d ever go to a Southeastern Conference basketball game and watch ten black players on the court at one time? Or a bunch of black Cub Scouts helping the cheerleaders in the stands? Or white coeds embracing a victorious Elston Turner, a black All-American forward?” Willie shakes his head in wonder. There has been visible change since Federal troops were called in to quell rioting at the enrollment of James Meredith in this Deep South university in 1962. A black cheerleader at Ole Miss, or example, caused a national flurry last year when he refused to unfurl a Rebel Flag at a football game. Willie, however, does not paint an all-rosy picture of the South for his students. “He makes us realize that Mammy Callie’s daughter still goes to the ice house to get water,” said student John Morgan, who grew up in Oxford. “And you can go out a couple of miles into Beat Two, and find people not even living in the Twentieth Century.” “Mammy Callie” was the Faulkner family’s black servant, the model for his Dilsey, “who endured,” who worked for the writer’s family until she died at the age of 100 and then lay in state in Rowan Oak. Willie says, “I have a recurring image of running into Mr. Bill in front of Shine Morgan’s Drug Store. ‘Well, Morris,’ he says, ‘let’s go sit on the front porch, have a little whiskey and talk about what’s been hap’nin’ in Mississippi since I left.’ ” Willie Morris, who is now home again, could tell him. AMERICAN MEN, especially those who were boy athletes, hold nothing so dear as boy hood. To be a grown man is too weighty, too tiring, sometimes too boring. But to be a boy, running fleetfooted through the outfield, singleminded about a sinking line drive and little else! That was freedom. To become attached to simple things, such as a solid wood bat or a well-worn leather mitt! That was good living. Willie Morris’s latest book is in honor of those good days. Always Stand In Against the Curve is a collection of seven sports stories; three are drawn from Morris’s boyhood memories of football and baseball in the Mississippi delta and the others are each in some way about the pangs of watching those easy days slip away. Morris writes in the foreword that he likes to think of himself “in body and in spirit, as I was on a summer’s afternoon when I was seventeen years old. . . . Surely there is a wisp of immortality in us then, poised at that juncture before the world seizes hold of us.” He tells of his friend Larry L. King, who asked for a tryout for the football team after he got a Nieman Fellowship to Harvard. King was 41 years old. Morris understood very well what it was that made King do it, he tells us, “and I hope this little book will help the reader understand, too.” The seven stories are not just sports stories they reflect Morris’s larger concerns set in the arena of past triumphs and defeats. The closest one to a simple sports tale is “The Fumble,” described as a “novella” the others being. “autobiographical.” In “The Fumble” Morris has a little fun with his past, pitting his high school football team, the Yazoo City Choctaws, against the biggest and meanest team in Mississippi, and putting himself in the critical play with fifty seconds left. ALWAYS STAND IN AGAINST THE CURVE By Willie Morris Yolcnapatawpha Press, 1983 116 pp. $12.95 In “Always Stand In Against the Curve” Morris writes about his first confrontation with the breaking ball. As an adolescent on Mississippi’s championship American Legion team, he travels to Baton Rouge to face the Louisiana champions. “The game is etched in my memory, as indelible as first love,” he writes. The pitcher for the Louisiana team had a fearsome curve ball. “Confronting a great curve at sixteen is one of life’s memorable junctures, almost sexual in its intensity, and there is no full expectation of it, and no one can prepare you for it, not even yourself.” Despite coaching advice to “stand in” Morris strikes out four times; but that is not really the point here. His Mississippi all-stars go home vanquished, and he takes us quickly through the decline of his baseball days. He ends the story with a scene many years later: He is in Houston watching a televised major league game. He has a six-month-old child; his concerns are more complex now. He lounges on the floor “absorbing again the satisfying old nuances of the sport I had forgotten all those years.” Suddenly the young Louisiana pitcher with the fearsome curve turns up on the TV screen, now as a major leaguer with the Chicago Cubs. The lefty has hung on to his “wisp of immortality,” still breaking curve balls over the plate while his former opponents grow old. SOME OF THE material in Always Stand In will be familiar to those who remember North Toward Home. “The Phantom of Yazoo” was originally published in the New Yorker, and later became a section in Morris’s well-known memoir. Morris’s concern with place will be familiar, too. “The Search for Billy Goat Hill,” the final story in the collection, is about what time hath wrought on old familiar places. “This yearning for some palpable touch with the physical past is deep and primal,” he writes. . So Willie came back after many years to visit Austin, Texas, and to wander the campus like an alien, looking for the beloved baseball field he knew so well as a member of the University of Texas squad. “I had been looking forward to this, for I have forever been haunted, obsessed even, by coming back to known places, by absorbing the precise textures of vanished moments, as if the simple act of the wanderer’s reappearance would postpone the tide of mortality.” Of course nothing was as he remembered it. “Why, Texas, did you let it get so big so quickly?” he asks plaintively. He tries to soothe himself with “the quizzical speech” he had once heard given by the Queen of England: “The past is no longer with us, the present is here today, and the future is yet to be.” . Ah, but the past is very much with Willie Morris. These wistful stories bring it back, recreate it, hold onto it. His stories stand in against the rush of time, but not without the knowledge that eventually the strikes are called and the side is retired. .. Before the World Seizes U By Dave Denison 22 JULY 13, 1984 paiswaimmimisminow4wswamemmomminw- Ty
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