Signs of spring


Buddy King

I just saw the first harbinger of spring. I came back from a “slog” Saturday morning and went out on the front porch to get the mail and what would be there but the 2017 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue!

This inspired me to begin some of my spring rituals – I took the mower to Sandy’s for servicing and got the screen doors out for repair. I even raked leaves out of the flowerbeds and dumped sludge out of the birdbath. A sore back is a sure sign of spring, early as it seemed to be on a 65-degree Saturday in February.

There are many events or occurrences that signal that spring is on the way. There are the obvious ones, such as hearing “pitchers and catchers report,” signaling the beginning of baseball’s spring training, and the first sighting of a robin, like the mother who has returned to the same nest (and the same hungry stares from our cats) in our espalier for the last 10 years or so.

Then there are signs personal to me, like standing with my wife in the corral at the start of the Cooper River Bridge Run on a glorious South Carolina morning with 38,000 of our closest friends, having escaped the dying days of another West Virginia winter for the rebirth of the sun and the green of South Carolina.

And there is my annual attendance at the Pirates’ home opener, where the Pittsburgh weather can resemble either the springs of South Carolina or the winters of Siberia, but regardless means that glorious baseball is back for real and that the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer cannot be far behind.

But the SI Swimsuit issue ranks right up there as a sign that winter is ending. It became a national phenomenon many years ago, arguably spawning the era of supermodels and creating current advertising revenues that approach the GNP of many small countries.

It debuted in 1964 (I looked it up to make sure), a few weeks after I had turned 11. My father was an early subscriber to SI, and I learned to read from the works of iconic early SI writers like Dan Jenkins and Tex Maule, so the magazine’s arrival at our home was a greatly anticipated weekly event.

In fact, I remember hoping that my Dad was too tired when he returned from work to want the mag the day it arrived each week, so that I could have first dibs.

When the first Swimsuit Issue came to our house in the late winter of 1964, I was outraged. Not like the thousands of parents over the last 53 years who have canceled subscriptions and expressed their feelings on SI’s editorial pages because they believe girls in bikinis are morally offensive.

No, I was outraged because there were no sports! There were girls (yuck) on the cover and the storylines were always some beach somewhere that no one had ever been to or even heard of.

I asked where is a star college basketball player or a toothless hockey play or Muhammad Ali or Sandy Koufax? I wanted sports darn it, not half-naked girls. Where are the sports and the heroes I lived for? Even give me some French guy or girl sashaying down a ski slope for goodness sake!

Suffice it to say, that in about two years my feelings changed. Instead of dreading the wasted week of the Swimsuit Issue, it became a much-anticipated event. I don’t remember who was on the first cover of this new era, but I do remember thinking that she beat the heck out of looking at Wilt Chamberlain or Gordie Howe.

In fact, I am pretty sure that the swimsuit issue began my desire to keep all of my Dad’s SI’s. By the time I went away to college, I had hundreds of editions stored away in my room at home. Unfortunately, they met the fate of baseball card collections of that era, i.e., the terroristic acts of mothers who considered them expendable.

A fitting sidebar is what happened after I got to college. The summer before we matriculated, my great friend and roommate to be, Bob, suggested that we each subscribe to 3 magazines to give us more stuff to read. Like we needed it. Bob selected Time, US News, World Report and Newsweek (or something similar to those three).

Keeping my end of the bargain, I subscribed to SI (of course), National Lampoon and Playboy – honest to God. I think Bob only glanced at Lampoon and totally ignored my other choices. The one thing I didn’t count on though was that the University Post Office would forward all of our mail home at the end of the school year.

Let’s just say there were some tense moments on Cherry Lane when the June edition of Playboy arrived. (“What will Jack the mailman think?”) The SI Swimsuit Issue didn’t seem that bad to my mom after all.

Evans “Buddy” King grew up in Christiansburg and graduated from CHS in 1971. He lives in Clarksburg, West Virginia, where he practices law with the firm of Steptoe and Johnson PLLC.