The cover grabbed me the minute I saw it. That could be my brother, or any of the boys in our school or neighborhood, on that Sting-Ray bike. I was born in 1962, graduated from high school the year after Steve Rushin’s oldest brother (albeit in a different school–even a different state). My Dad grew up in similar circumstances but in Indianapolis, not Ft. Wayne, Indiana–until after World War II. Had Steve’s Dad stayed at Purdue, he’d have been a student there at the same time as my parents and my uncle and future aunt, too.
As a child of the late ’60s and ’70s living in the same socioeconomic bracket, my brother and I shared many similarities in our upbringing with the Rushin kids. My Dad (and my Uncle) was a salesman for a major company and we moved to a new subdivision in a new town regularly until I was 10 and we got to stay put. Finally, I now live outside Cincinnati, Ohio, where his mother grew up.
Steve Rushin, the middle of 5 kids in an upwardly mobile suburban Catholic family, fondly remembers his upbringing by loving parents first in the suburbs of Chicago and then in the Minneapolis suburb, Bloomington–once the home of the Vikings, Twins, and North Stars. His childhood was marred only by odd, vivid dreams that sent him sleepwalking and, occasionally, peeing in odd places during his walks. With four brothers and one sister, Steve’s life was viewed from a big wood-sided station wagon. He played the usual boy sports to be expected of the son and brother of 3 college athletes. His first job was at the Met–the stadium in Bloomington where sports and concerts occurred in the era of the Purple People Eaters and Fran Tarkington.
What I Loved
Well, I loved it all! I loved the way pop-culture–especially t.v. commercials and tv/movies and popular music were woven seamlessly into the narrative. I related to Steve and his fascination for knowledge, reading, and books–as well as for the hours spent playing games against the garage door (side of the house for me–our garage door had windows) or basketball in the driveway. Loved the backyard sports rules we all used–“Pitcher’s Hand Out.” I nodded at each shared rule, tradition or quirk–the “schedule” (it was the TV Guide in my house) that lived beside Dad’s “Archie Bunker chair,” Dad manning the Webber Kettle grill, everyone eating at the table together and having to ask to be “excused.” Childhood.
I enjoyed his rites of passage–not the usual tawdry loss of his you-know-what but celebrating a brother finally old enough to go to an NHL game with Dad, of getting to see a first grown-up movie, or each brother starting his first job at the stadium concession stand. I relived all those hours of rough-housing with my big brother, ending only when I said “Uncle” or one of us got hurt–just like Steve and his 3 brothers. I screamed with his sister in one incident and laughed until I cried over the Frankenstein Walk and the butt-washer! Childhood in suburbia.
I especially loved that a Catholic family had no tale of altar boy sons being abused. The worst we heard of a priest in this book was that the new one did not listen when they talked of their mother so the priest could write his eulogy. I loved that his Dad, like, mine made a conscious effort to give his family a different life than he’d grown up with and that his children gave him aftershave and tennis balls for every holiday. (We gave aftershave, pipe tobacco, and handkerchiefs). Steve’s parents loved each other, loved their children, guided their kids, encouraged them, knew when to protect them, and when to let them get hurt, but expected the right amount of everything from them. Like mine, there were a family in which it was never necessary or “done,” to say “I love you.” (I, too, first heard those words at the end of a parent’s life). The Rushin parents raised two college athletes, one doctor, a writer for Sports Illustrated who married a WNBA star, all 5 grew up to be successful and reasonably happy.
One of my favorite memoirs in years.
Sting-Ray Afternoons: A Memoir by Steve Rushin
Good News! Steve’s second volume of memoirs, Nights in White Castle, is now out!