Baseball

I was delighted with jumping up and down delight when one Saturday my aunt Leah offered, “Let’s go watch some baseball.” I was seven, and she knew how much I loved baseball. Then came the best part when she said, “Your sister won’t be coming. Allison went with your father this morning.”

Allison always tagged along and spoiled any fun Aunt Leah and I might have had with her whining and her crying. What’s more I hated all those nights when my sister kept us awake with her squalling, her pounding on the walls, her never letting us get a night, or a day, off from her attention-getting. So you can imagine how glad I was that my father had taken her with him that morning. ‘Cause I hated Allison as only a brother can hate a sister.

It was a fine Florida April day in 1952, a day not too hot and not too cloudy but just about right. There was even a breeze to keep us cooled off from what might have been a warm spring day. Around about lunchtime, may aunt and I left the two-story house where my aunt lived with my father, my ten-year-old sister and me. We strolled over to the neighborhood ballpark several blocks away.

The field was empty. But we knew it would fill up with players soon. Kids always showed for at least one game of nine-inning on a Saturday afternoon, sometimes more. I ran up the bleachers two at a time till I reached the top, then plopped myself down onto the wood. Aunt Leah followed. She sat down beside me and reached into her big handbag.

“Guess what?” she asked, looking down at me with her warm, green eyes.

I shook my head. I didn’t know.

She pulled out a brown paper sack. “Peanut butter sandwiches,” she said, opening the sack. “Your favorite.”

Aunt Leah unwrapped a sandwich and passed it over to me. I bit into the sandwich. It filled my mouth with the creamy stuff. She took a thermos out of her handbag and twisted it open and poured water into its cap and handed it over to me. I drank the cold, delicious water, then had another bite from my sandwich. I looked up at her and smiled. She smiled back at me, then began one of the sandwiches herself.

What a day, I thought, looking down on that diamond. I felt like I was on top of the world, though I was just on top of some bleachers at a ballpark. Gobbling down a second sandwich. Drinking water out of a thermos. Ready to watch the neighborhood kids play some baseball. And best of all. I had my aunt all to myself. There was no sister there with us to spoil the fun.

Aunt Leah finished her sandwich, then poured some more water into my cup and filled a cup for herself. Then she said, “It comes from the world of Amador, this water. Taste how sweet it is.” We both drank, I gulping the liquid down, she taking a sip. “It’s the water the unicorns drink.”

Really? I said with my eyes. I finished off my second sandwich, took a final drink and waited for her to go on.

“Oh, yes. You know about Amador, don’t you?”

I knew about Amador. But I loved my Aunt Leah telling me the stories with her soft, musical voice. I shook my head no, then passed my empty cup, the thermos cap, back to her. She twisted the cap back on, put the thermos and the empty paper sack back into her handbag.

“Amador is a special place,” she began, “a parallel world to this one. In it, most places are green and there are flowers like you’ve never seen.”

As she told her story, two teams hurried onto the baseball diamond. They were teenagers, these boys, and they looked like they were ready for some baseball with their gloves and bats and caps. Man, I loved baseball. Just the sound of the names of Ted Williams and Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio on the radio gave me goose bumps.

A tall slim boy walked over to the pitcher’s mound, ready to slay any kid who came to bat with his fastball.

“There’s green everywhere, except in the Northlands. There is no green there–”

A chubby, red-headed kid with a bat in his hand stepped up to home plate and raised the bat to his right shoulder.

“–only cold and ice and snow in that forbidden place.”

The pitcher, taller than the others on the field, wound up his arm, then he released the ball.

“You know about the Snow Queen, queen of the Northlands.”

The ball rushed toward the red-headed boy.

I knew about the Snow Queen. I hated the Snow Queen and the icy Northlands she ruled.

Red swung at the fastball.

“She gave an order this morning.”

Strike one.

An order?

The catcher threw the ball back to the pitcher.

“She sent her evil minions south.”

The pitcher stuck his glove out and caught the ball and smiled.

I didn’t know what evil minions were but I knew I wouldn’t like them if I met them. Maybe they looked like my sister Allison. The thought made me giggle.

Strike two. The catcher sent the ball back to the pitcher.

“The evil minions were commanded to find the unicorns and murder them.”

Strike three.

The batter dropped his bat and left home plate.

“Way to go, Jack,” the third baseman called over to the pitcher.

Jack turned to his third baseman and grinned. But I wasn’t grinning. Tears filled my eyes.

“It’s okay,” Aunt Leah said. “There’s no reason to cry. The unicorns were saved.”

I wasn’t crying because of the evil minions. I was crying because I could never be a Jack or one of a gang of kids who got to play baseball. Instead I was just a sickly, pale shrimp of a kid, wearing his thick glasses, sitting with his aunt in the bleachers and not on the playing field. I slipped my glasses off and wiped the tears away, then they went back on.

“The Great Warrior,” she continued, “Smythicus stopped the minions at the border of the South. In fact, he said to those darn minions, “No evil minions will ever harm the unicorns of this land.”

Another boy, this one wearing a red shirt, walked over to the batter’s plate. He had a smile on his face like he knew something nobody else did. He reminded me of Bobby Thomson. I had the Scotsman’s Bowman card, and I’m telling you, this kid looked just like him. And I knew all about “The Flying Scotsman” and his “shot heard ’round the world.” I had listened to the game that won the Giants the National League pennant on my father’s Philco radio.

“Smythicus,” Aunt Leah said, “had a large broadsword. It was named Silver. Like the Lone Ranger’s horse. And it was a killer of evil minions.”

Bobby Thomson stepped to the batter’s plate on October 3, 1951. It was the ninth inning. He squinted at Dodgers pitcher, Ralph Branca. The radio announcer said he liked to squint. It made the pitchers nervous. But Branca wasn’t buying any of Bobby’s squinting that day. Branca wasn’t nervous at all. At least, that’s what the guy on the radio said.

Branca threw the ball a first time, then a second time. Bobby whacked that ball out of the reach of the left fielder and into the stands. That hit gave the New York Giants a miracle and a trip to the World Series. Boy, that Number 23, that Bobby Thomson sure could hit.

“The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” the announcer Russ Hodges screamed out from the radio. “The Giants win the pennant and they’re going crazy! New York is going crazy!” If I could’ve done cartwheels, I would’ve. If the Giants could win the pennant, anything was possible. A scrawny, sickly kid like me might even get to play baseball one day. Man, I loved those New York Giants that day, and I was glad they had beat “dem bums” from Brooklyn.

Though, if I had given them a chance, I would’ve come to love the Dodgers the next year just like I loved the Giants. I would’ve been a fan from then on till they picked up and betrayed everything that was holy by sneaking out of Brooklyn and moving off to California. You could not play decent baseball off in sunny California. Too sunny. That’s why Florida didn’t have a baseball team and never would, I reasoned. To play real baseball like the majors did, you had to be from Boston or New York or Philadelphia or Chicago. Not a sunny city among them.

The kid at the batter’s plate tipped his cap the way Bobby Thomson must’ve done before he hit that ball out of the park. But he sure couldn’t hit like Bobby. The ball flew by him a third time and he swung. He swung hard. The kid struck out.

“But Smythicus,” Aunt Leah went on, “he didn’t kill the evil minions. He wasn’t that sort of a Smythicus. He didn’t like to kill. He hit them with the side of his sword and they hated that. So these evil minions of the Snow Queen left the unicorns alone once upon a time. And everybody lived happily ever after.”

I had lost interest in Amador. There was no baseball in Amador and no Bobby Thomsons. I looked up at my aunt and grinned. She hugged me and ran her fingers through my hair and said, “Isn’t that Smythicus something. How he saved the unicorns?”

Another kid stepped up to the plate to bat.

She loosened her hug, then looked away for a second. When she looked back, tears were in her eyes. Could she be wishing that she could play baseball the way I wished it? “Nathaniel,” she said. My Aunt Leah never called me Nathaniel and there was a seriousness in her voice. Something must be wrong, but what? “Nathaniel,” her voice choked. “Allison is going away. She won’t be back…for some time.”

Did I hear right? My sister Allison was going away? I would have Aunt Leah and my father all to myself. No more Allison nightmares. No more screams in the middle of the night. No more pampering. Allison was always getting all the attention. She was going away.

I wanted to shout a big yes. But I didn’t. There was a sadness on my aunt’s face I had never seen.

“Your sister,” Aunt Leah said as the left-handed batter hit a home run. “She’s been ill for a very long time. Since the night you were born and your mother left us. Your father and I thought we could make her better. But we can’t.” She was almost crying, tears welling up in her eyes. “We can’t make her better. She is very sick.”

Sick? Why was she sick? She wasn’t sick. She was just trying to get her way with my father and my Aunt Leah. The showoff.

“Your father has taken her to a hospital.”

A hospital? My eyes grew bigger as I choked on the thought. Why a hospital?

“There are doctors there who can help her.”

Doctors? A hospital?

“Allison has awful nightmares and very bad headaches.”

But she was faking. I looked down at the bleachers. She was just faking.

“She goes for days with one of those headaches.”

Allison gone? No. No.

“We’re going to have to get along without her? At least for a while.”

I won’t see Allison? But why? She’s my sister. She may be a creep but she’s my sister.

“We think the doctors can give her some relief, maybe make her well. We just have to be patient. One day she’ll come back home. Okay?”

Aunt Leah took my hand and squeezed. Then I started crying. She took me into her arms and held me close. I pushed her away, then grabbed her. I bawled my eyes out, and she cried too. Allison was not going to be at home. Allison, screaming Allison, pampered Allison, sick Allison, my sister Allison. I just knew that I would never see her again.

Recovering from her crying, Aunt Leah said, “We’ll visit her at the hospital, you’ll see. And they might just let her come home for visits.”

I knew I would never see my sister, my only sister, ever again.

That was the day I went home and ripped up all my baseball cards.

Fine and Dandi

Two sisters.

One, the oldest, as pretty as a model, blonde hair, blue eyes, a killer of a smile, a waist that never puts on weight. She was the smart one, and the one who never talked ‘cause she was shy. Her thing was music. She ate, drank, slept music. She played a kick-butt cello. Her name was Anna Belle. Everybody called her Fine.

Her sister, two years younger, was Mary Belle, but she was known as Dandi. She was the popular one, a little bit on the chunky side and long, stringy hair, a washed-out blonde. She had no particular bent for any of the arts. She liked people and people liked her. She had such an infectious laugh. And she could tell a joke that would have the listener rolling on the floor.

Fine and Dandi were inseparable. As the two grew up, no one could remember them having a disagreement. If a guy wanted to date Dandi, he had to find a friend for Fine. The guys didn’t mind. After all, she was the attractive one. But her attitude toward them made them conclude she was stuck up. She just didn’t reciprocate their affection while Dandi did. So there came a time when Dandi no longer was asked out. The guy couldn’t find a date for Fine.

Fine waited to go off to college until Dandi graduated high school. During the two-year interval between high school and college, she gave cello lessons to bring in some money to pay for the rent her mother charged. “It’s time you paid your way,” she told her daughter. “Can’t stay around here and twiddle your thumbs.”

Dandi managed to get through high school with a B average with her sister’s help. But it was just barely a B. Then she and her sister took off to college. They had a dorm room together. They went to the same classes. Decided they would become teachers. They both liked kids.

Soon they had their degrees and were interning at one of the local elementary schools. Both waitressed at the same restaurant and made enough in tips to keep a roof over their heads. They moved several hundred miles away from the college and found jobs as teachers at the same elementary school. They found a two-story house and renovated it over the next three years.

When the sisters went home for Christmas, their parents noticed the two were looking more and more like each other. Fine had long, stringy hair, a washed out blonde. She gave up the cello. Now she played guitar. Dandi lost weight and now strummed a guitar. Both had become shy but they had Dandi’s infectious laugh.

Then there was something else. When Fine left a room, Dandi worried that she wouldn’t return. When Dandi went off to the store to pick up some groceries, Fine kept looking out the window. It was as if each expected something bad to happen to her sister.

Sure they had always been close, but this was ridiculous. At least, that was what the parents said to each other. “We’ve got to do something,” their mother said to their father as they laid in bed, worrying. “But what?” their father wanted to know. He’d always been a man in control, except when it came to his daughters. So the parents conspired. The parents decided that the closeness was unnatural. It reminded them of people in a cult. What they needed to do was an intervention.

The holidays came to an end and the girls returned to their life in the town three towns away from their parents’ home. Their mother went on the internet and found exactly what she was looking for. It was a Saturday when the de-programmer showed up on her porch. The mother invited him in, told him what she had in mind.

“You sure you want to do this?” he asked the parents. “Once we start on this road, there is no turning back.” He told several stories of what happened when parents backed down after the process began. It wasn’t pretty. “This is what we want,” both parents agreed.

The next Friday night, two men sat in a van across from the sisters’ house. They watched. Saturday passed and both the girls stayed indoors. And the same for Sunday. On Monday evening they came home from work and began their usual vegetarian dinner. While Dandi cooked in the kitchen, Fine set the table.

The doorbell rang. “I’ll get it,” Fine called out to her sister, happiness in her voice.

She opened the door. A man in a dark blue suit threw a hood over her head. She screamed but it was too late. The two men had her in their van and they were down the road.

Behind the van, Dandi in the sisters’ red mustang was a block away and gaining. On the seat beside her lay the .38 the girls kept in the house for protection. Just as she came up behind the van, it started to rain. She almost touched the van’s bumper. Crying, she tried to think of what to do. Then it came to her. She pulled around to the side of the van and slammed into it. The rain was pouring. She pushed harder against the van with her car. The van hit a telephone pole. Dandi stopped her car and jumped out and ran over to the van.

The driver opened the van door. He looked stunned. The other man was slumped over in his seat, unconscious.

“Get out.”

The driver crawled out of the vehicle.

“Now where’s my sister.”

He pointed at the back of the van.

Dandi stuck her gun into his gut and said, “Open the back door.” He unlocked the door.

Fine was on the floor, tied up. “Untie her,” Dandi urged.

The man did as he was told. Fine crawled out of the van.

“Now turn around.”

The man did as he was told.

Dandi said, “Hands behind you.” The man’s large hands went behind his body. “Get into the van and lay face down.” He did as he was told. Dandi handed the gun to her sister, then tied his feet and hands together with his belt. She slammed the door, went to the driver’s seat and took the keys and threw them over into a nearby yard. Down the street came a police car with a flashing light.

Fine and Dandi got into their car and slowly drove away. Dandi left the lights off the car and the police did not follow.

Their car disappeared into the night. That was the last anyone saw them. Ever.

In ancient Greece, there was a story of two brothers, Castor and Pollux. When Castor died, Pollux prayed to Zeus, the king of the gods, to let his twin share his divinity, so that they would never be separated. Zeus agreed and they were made into the constellation Gemini. Perhaps the next time you look up to the heavens with your telescope and see Gemini, you will think of Fine and Dandi. I know I do.

“I’m not coming home”

“I’m not coming home,” Denise speaks into her cell, then smiles at Sarah across the table.

She listens for several minutes. Then she says, “No, I’m not coming home.”

A minute later, “But.”

Then, “No, absolutely not. I don’t care what you say. I’m not coming home.”

After more listening, Denise continues, “Look, understand, you’re just going to have to do this without me. I’m not coming home.”

Again she listens, then interrupts, “But, Mom…Mom.”

Sarah shakes her head, thinking, “Been there, done that many times over.”

Gritting her teeth, her voice revealing her frustration, Denise says, “Mom, I told you. I am not coming home.”

In frustration she ends the call, stuffs the cell into her pocket, turns to her friend, and says, “Well, I guess that’s settled. I’m going home.”

Big Nose, Mommy & Me

Have you ever wondered what a baby thinks as he’s looking up at you with those baby blue eyes? Perhaps we can imagine.

It’s all about me. It’s true. The world revolves around me. Ask Mommy. She’ll tell you.

“Isn’t he handsome?” Mommy says. I am in my crib. Her face is above me. She smiles her large smile. I love her smile. It makes me feel warm inside. I giggle.

“He’s not so hot,” Brother looks through the bars of my crib. He has big eyes. Big ears. A big nose. His big mouth smirks at me. I look at him. I frown.

“You be nice,” Mommy says.

Yeah, Big Nose, you listen to Mommy.

“I am nice,” Big Nose says.

I stick out my tongue. I spit. Pooh on you.

“Now, now,” Mommy says to me, “ignore your brother. He doesn’t have a clue. It’s great to have a little brother like you. You’re just darling, you know that? Yessir, goo goo ga ga.”

I do know that. I’m back looking at Mommy. She has the most beautiful face in the world. Cut it out, Mommy. You’re tickling me. Please, you’re tickling me. Mommy stops the tickling. She pulls the blanket over my shiny new body.

“Look at him,” Mommy says to Big Nose. “Isn’t he wonderful? And that smile. Who couldn’t love a smile like that.”

See, I told you. The world does revolve around me. And I’m wonderful too.

“What’s so wonderful about the little turd?”

I frown. Mommy, he called me a bad word. Well, he’ll be sorry. I’ll fix him. I’ll fix him good.

“Don’t talk like that. Just look at those … toes.”

“Pee eww,” Big Nose says,

They turn their faces away.

Sorry, Mommy. That was meant for him.

“The little turd just pooped a big turd. Guess his turds are wonderful too.”

They both face me again. Mommy reaches down to unpin my diaper.

“Like your poop don’t stink. I’m here to tell you that was mild compared to yours.”

I knew it. Even when I poop, I’m wonderful. Why would she change my diaper if I wasn’t? I smile at her. Then I giggle.

She smiles back at me. “You’re absolutely adorable, you know that?”

I do know.

The Prodigal Father

Inspired by Shakespeare’s “Henry IV Part One. Have you ever wondered what happened after the Prodigal Son’s return to his father?

Twenty years or so after the Prodigal Son’s return, his father occupied a table outside a cafe on a small street near a city park. The old man lifted his half-filled wine glass, saluted the spring morning, touched the liquid to his lips, sipped the nectar, then smiled at his mouth’s delight as he waited for the younger of his two sons.

His thoughts elsewhere, he occasionally raked his fingers through his white beard, unknotting the long, fine strands. He lifted a pipe to his mouth and inhaled a slow puff of tobacco.

He remembered asking his son in that long ago time of the boy’s return, “Tell me. What was it like?”

“It was glorious. Until the money ran out. Stuck my thumb out and headed West, cause West was where the night life was. And I had one rip roaring time. There was down on my luck days and full house nights. Did the Vegas thing and lost everything, including the seat of my pants. Robbed a train or two. Me and my outlaw buddies. Spent some time out Siberia way. Cold so bad it froze the bones. Fell in love seven, eight, nine times. Prayed at the Ganges.”

Listening to the boy spill his stories out like he was tossing dice, he couldn’t help but wonder what it was like to just take off toward the horizon without a care in the world.

“So. What made you come back? The farm sounds like it’d be Boredom City compared to the life you were living?”

“Don’t know. Guess I got tired of mining for gold and coming up pyrite. When I tired of a life on the run, I got into my head to settle down. Thing is I didn’t have much job experience. Even for a swineherd job, I needed a resume. So I lied and made everything up. Then I got to feeling guilty. Lying just wasn’t in my blood. You’d taught me well where that was concerned.”

As his son talked, the father realized he’d missed so much. He’d taken over his father’s farm because his father couldn’t do the work anymore. If the farm had depended on happiness to prosper, it never would have prospered. But it had prospered as he sowed the seeds of his misery. That’s when he realized he had taken a hankering for the wondering life. It’s like they say. You don’t know you’re lonely till you glance at a happy couple.

That night he called his two sons into his library. Right there and then, he did a Lear. Handed his older son the deed to the farm with a check for enough money to manage. He gave his second son, the prodigal boy, another check. That left him with just enough cash to head for parts unknown.

He’d been places. He’d gone East when he could have travelled West. He’d wanted to find the place where the sky drew back a curtain and gave the opening act of the sun, a new day to play with. He’d never found that spot, though he tried. It was just as lost as the end of the rainbow.

Scanning the park nearby, he recognized his son, walking briskly toward him. The once-upon-a-time young man had put on some pounds but otherwise he’d prospered in the intervening years since the two had last seen each other.

The old man called the waiter over and ordered a second bottle of wine.

The younger man saw his father and hurried toward him. The two men embraced, then sat down. At the table, they took a long look at each other, and tears rolled down their faces.

“Where’s your brother?”

“He wouldn’t come.”

“Figures.”

“How are you, Pops?”

“Still ornery enough to kick your butt.”

“I bet you can.”

The old man poured out two glasses of wine. Then they sat silently gazing into the park. They had never been a talkative bunch, he and his sons. His long dead wife had done most of the talking, often carrying on both sides of the conversation.

The sun slipped out of the sky and slowly the evening settled into shadows. In the silence, the father reached across the table and squeezed his son’s hand.

“I love you, Son.”

“I love you too, Pops.”

It was close to midnight when the two stood up and embraced.

“You sure you won’t come home with me? For just one night. Liza would love that.”

“No, Son. It wouldn’t be right. Your brother would think I was playing favorites again.”

The Son nodded. He knew what his father meant.

“‘Sides I got to get on. There’s a whole wide world out there to explore.”

The two embraced one last time, kissing each other’s cheeks. Then it was goodbye.

The son walked away, glancing back at his father several times, each time a longing in his eyes, a longing for another time and place when the two had shared a meal with his brother, when the three had laughed heartily at bad jokes and good wine and a mother’s love as his mother served up a feast of a meal. That time was gone, only a memory that would fade into the dust of time.

The old man sighed, then finished the wine. He decided it was time to go West finally to the sun’s setting and catch a wave off to Avalon. He stood up, dropped his pipe into his pocket and strolled off to the park. He’d hitch a ride the next morning.

In the dark and under a tree nearby, his older son watched his father. He started to call out, but something stopped him. He just couldn’t do it. So he turned and headed back to the farm. He had cows to milk early the next morning.