When I drive toward the thicket, my car, like a horse headed for the barn, veers toward the home of Uncle Mort and Aunt Maude. They live in the deepest part, right next to the swamp.

Their setting is as rural as it gets. No one passes their house going to town.

I typically stop by to say “hello,” partly out of obligation and partly out of curiosity…

This day, Maude was putting new elastic in Mort’s black arm bands — the ones she made for him years ago when he wanted to wear his sadness on his sleeves.

“I just wish he’d quit wearing them to the general store,” Maude said. “Guys there keep snappin’ ‘em, pokin’ fun at a guy who takes sports far too seriously.”

Mort, she said, is in post-season mourning for the Dallas Mavericks, and early-season sadness for the Texas Rangers…

For Mort, the arm bands signify a heart at half-mast.

I dreaded hearing his harangues, but I would have never heard the end of it if I left without at least a “howdy” to my old uncle.

She directed me out back, where Mort was fiddling with his golf cart…

Had things been going well, Mort would have bragged on a flour sack half-full of crawdads. He would have joked that the crawly creatures are suckers for raw bacon. And how they don’t notice the kite string that will lift them from the shallows.

On previous

occasions, he would have licked his lips, talking about what wonderful gumbo Maude would offer for lunch. Then, he would abruptly change the subject, saying “If I think about gumbo, my mouth starts watering, and I don’t want to dilute it none.”

This time, he started talking straight way about the Mavericks and Rangers. He asked me if I knew what deposed NBA Official Joey Crawford and the Mavericks have in common…

“Their seasons both ended earlier than expected,” Mort snorted, managing a crease of a grin. (Crawford’s ejection of San Antonio’s Tim Duncan in a late-season game didn’t set well with NBA brass, who sent him to “time out.” The top-seeded Mavs failed to impress eighth-seeded Golden State, who sent them packing in the first round of NBA play-offs.)

Mort, striving for a positive spin, figures that Crawford can show the Mavericks where the fish are biting.

He spoke of how lucky he was to see the games on his 17-inch black and white TV. “I just don’t think I could have watched Dallas’ pitiful play on a big screen in color,” he winced….

Mort said he’s tired of hearing Texas Ranger ads touting baseball, particularly the one with the tag line: “You could use some baseball.”

He thinks the ad writers are 180 degrees off on this one.

“The way the Rangers are playing, that’s the message fans should be sending to management,” Mort suggested…

My old uncle plans to wear the arm bands all summer, eager to tell inquirers about his adornment.

Most of the conversations will be at the Little League field a few miles away. There, kids play for free, are loyal to their teams and feel fully rewarded, win or lose, if they get snow cones at the end of the game.

“There’s much to be said for amateur sports,” Mort asserts…

He told about stories heard at the ball park a night earlier.

“Us grandparents talked about unlikely names for churches,” my uncle said.

“One mentioned ‘Little Hope Baptist Church’ in East Texas, and another spoke of ‘Halfway Baptist Church,’ equidistant between Plainview and Olton.”

A grandma stayed on the church theme. Her 5-year-old grandson overheard a conversation about “pounding the preacher.”

She explained that church members take staples like flour, sugar and corn meal — food stuff measured in pounds — to welcome the new parson and his family to the parsonage.

Her grandson was present for the preacher’s first sermon, and was not impressed. Breaking silence on the way home, the youngster observed, “Maybe an ‘ouncing’ would have been enough.”

Don Newbury is a speaker and author whose weekly column appears in 125 newspapers in six states. He welcomes comments and inquiries. Call him at (817) 447-3872, or send e-mail to newbury@speakerdoc.com His Web site is www.speakerdoc.com.