Green Fields (June exercise)
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|Sun, 06-04-2000 - 3:17pm|
Green Fields (June exercise)
Sundays were routine at our house. Early Mass, then back home, where Mama would fix the most wonderful breakfasts. We had to stay in our church clothes, but it was worth it. We sat at the dining room table, the good plates brimming with fluffy yellow eggs, fresh sausages, and hot biscuits set out on the good tablecloth.
Over breakfast, Mama liked to discuss the sermon we’d heard. We each had to contribute something, her sly way of making sure we paid attention in church. Daddy’s contributions were less scriptural. He might wonder if the bird on Mrs. Leary’s hat had enjoyed the service and we'd giggle as Mama scolded him, struggling to hide her own smile.
Every so often, on a summer Sunday, he’d raise his fork and solemnly intone his own version of Genesis.
"And on the seventh day He rested… and watched a baseball game."
Mama would roll her eyes, shaking her head at his heresy. She just didn't care for baseball; Daddy said it was her only failing.
"It's true, Peggy. I believe you'll find it in the Dead Sea scrolls, or maybe it was a lost Gospel. Why, going to a ball game is like going to church!"
Daddy would turn to us, pleased with himself at a successful tease of Mama. My feet would begin to drum against my chair in excitement.
"What do you say, girls? Who will go with me unto the house of the Lord?"
He’d look at each of us in turn, oldest to youngest. KC and Mags were too silly, probably wanting to go to a movie or visit friends. That left me! I’d practically be bouncing in my seat by the time Daddy looked to me, acting as though I was an afterthought.
"You wouldn’t want to go, Nancy?"
"I would, Daddy, really!"
"Well, only if you’re sure…"
I’d look to Mama. She’d smile, tell me I was excused, and I’d fly upstairs to change. The cap Daddy gave me was in a special place, right between Barbie and Nancy Drew, and I’d grab it on my way out the door.
On the drive over, Daddy would tell stories of gods named Mantle and Mays, and I’d think how special they must be, to so impress my father. He’d park the car and take my hand for the walk to the stadium. We'd stop at a snack bar for peanuts, then make our way through the crowd until Daddy would turn down the aisle, and I'd see the field.
Green is a lovely color anyway, but that field was an emerald, shining in the sun, gleaming in the embrace of the seats around it. Perfect white lines set off that special area where only the select could go. Daddy would point and name the chosen for me, some of them the very gods he spoke of so reverently. They were right there, as though Daddy had brought them together just for us.
The men in their white and gray uniforms would trot onto the field and the game would begin. The bats would crack, the ball would smack against leather, the men would move with ferocious grace, throwing and catching and hitting. Peanut shells crackled under our feet when we leapt up with the crowd, roaring appreciation of some particularly spectacular play. The very best part would be when Daddy would lean over, one arm around my shoulders, the other pointing to the field.
"Watch now, Nance. He’ll try to bunt the runner over to second, get him into scoring position."
And that’s just what that batter would do. I’d beam at my Daddy, who knew so much, and he'd give me a squeeze and tug at the bill of my cap. Back home again, I’d chatter endlessly about the game, smug that neither Mama nor my sisters had shared it.
Seasons passed. The Sunday breakfasts became an occasion instead of a routine, every month or so. More places were set, as first Mags and then KC brought husbands to the table. I suppose I became as silly as my sisters had ever been, but there would always be at least one game with Dad. The gods were just men now, but the grass was just as green and I loved seeing the pleasure so plain on Dad's face at the ballpark. How he loved that game.
When he got sick, Dad would never let on to us just how serious it was; he hated making a fuss. Mama’s eyes never seemed to leave him those days, she was constantly touching his shoulder or patting his hand, storing him up for later. My sisters and I had long phone calls about remissions and cure rates. We knew what was happening, but it didn't seem real somehow, there was no feeling that it was true. Dad was thinner and grayer, but he still seemed the same, was always there when we'd visit. And he still followed the team.
On a Sunday in August I took him to the ballpark. I drove, but Dad bought the peanuts. He was quiet during the game. I’d lean over and try to get him talking.
"He’s got a nice swing, Dad."
"Oh, it’s a sweet swing, Nance, a real beauty." He’d grow still again, watching.
The game ended, our team lost. I was disappointed that Dad hadn’t seemed to enjoy himself, and was chatting with some other fan as we headed for the exit. I turned to see Dad trailing behind, the crowd streaming around him. I hurried back, startled at how weary he looked. I took his arm, gently suggested we sit while the crowd filed out.
We sat there holding hands as the crowd thinned, then was gone. Dad seemed better, I could feel his hand squeeze mine, but still we sat as the shadows crept over the field, darkening the grass. The realization welled up behind my eyes then: he was having his last look at that field; my Daddy wouldn't see another season. I didn't want to upset him, but the grass was covered with prisms and I could only nod when he finally said, "Let's go home, honey."
Dad died that November.
It was two years before I went back to the ballpark. I was sure the grass would have faded, but the field was just as pretty as before. It's my touchstone now, to seasons past and summer Sundays and a warm arm around my shoulders.
When the team is home for Mother’s Day, my family knows just what to get me: we all go to the ball game. When there’s a game on Father’s Day, though, I fix a big breakfast and then send them off to the ballpark, my children and their father. I like giving gifts.