I am a die-hard baseball fan. Have been since I was a small girl listening to the Saturday afternoon game on the radio. The shady back porch was reasonably cool and we didn’t have air conditioning, so lemonade or iced tea, the back porch swing, and the radio offered some relief from the blazing heat of a summer afternoon. Before air conditioning, the porch was about the only place in summer where my father and I found a common meeting ground. We weren’t close when I was growing up. I was too much my mother’s daughter, a drama queen in the making, and he was a retiring man with not much to say for himself. Still we had two shared interests–classical music and baseball. In the winter we’d sit by the radio and listen to the Sunday afternoon concert, but summer belonged to baseball. We had our favorite teams, of course. Somehow he never could understand how a kid from the Texas Panhandle could develop a passion for the New York Yankees. His favorite team was whatever group was playing against the Yankees. He swore I rooted for them just to be contrary.
Television came to our part of the world in the mid 50′s and we had a set as soon as Monkey Ward, as it was designated at our house, could get one in the front door. The thing was enormous by today’s standards–a three foot square cabinet with a teeny, fourteen inch screen. Programming sometimes lasted three or four hours in the evening. But on Saturday from May to October, we had BASEBALL! It was live, we saw the plays, and even though the pitcher appeared to be about three feet from the batter, we could actually see the moves, yell at the ump, and count the balls and strikes. So that we could stay inside and watch the games, air conditioning came to our house as well. My early teens were spent in the comfort of the den, surrounded by whispering cool breezes, glued to every move on the screen. I got to see my heroes–Whitey Ford, Yogi, Dimaggio, Mantle, Maris–actually play. And my father, well, he applauded every strike out, every error, and every muffed play they made. I grew older, so did my dad, and our lives took different paths. The last summer visit I had with him before he passed away, we spent the afternoons in front of the big color TV, watching the game, spending the little time we had making memories.
Memories–how they come back now that it’s baseball season again. The first beer I ever tried was a sneaky sip from the one sitting at my dad’s elbow. Later on, I’d bring the beer and we’d have one each to toast the seventh inning stretch. My first serious boyfriend had to wait while my team played out an eleventh inning tie–and he was rooting against them, siding with my dad. The first cocktail I ever tasted, on my twenty-first birthday, was one of dad’s rum collins drinks, mixed on the back porch, sipped with home-grilled hot dogs and burgers, before adjourning to the den for the first pitch. We weren’t close, my father and I, and some of the memories we shared are better forgotten. But let me near a ball park or see the teams run onto the field on my wide screen TV, hear the cheers and shouts and a chorus of ‘Umpire’s got to be blind!’ and for a couple of seconds, I’m back home, sitting in the den, sneaking a sip of beer, and arguing with that stubborn man who sired me that the Yankees will show his team how the game is played. Can I borrow back one of those afternoons, please? Could I have just an hour to tell him that we were closer in those moments than any other time in my life? In our relationship, those were really the only times that counted when I add it all up. Thanks for the memories, E. E. Smith, and for the minutes that made up the fabric of childhood. I miss you. Hope to see you at the game.
DON’T CALL ME DARLIN’
BLACK RAIN RISING
ELOPEMENT FOR ONE
HALF PAST MOURNING
CRY AGAINST THE WIND (forthcoming)