Yesterday, my mother called to tell me that my grandfather had passed away. He had been sick for a few weeks and although I was hoping he would get better, it became apparent to me that he’d lost a lot of his strength and was very ill. I think when you know that someone you care about is close to passing, you rationalize your feelings, prepare yourself, and feel as if you’ll have a good handle on the situation when it arises. At least, I thought that was true. Then when you actually lose that person, you’re at a complete loss and none of the rationalizations you made help you at all.
I don’t pretend to have a claim on loss or pain. I know that lots of people have experienced losing someone they cared about and, when I think about it, I had my Grandpa for 23 years. That’s longer than plenty of people have their grandparents. It’s longer than some people have their parents. But that doesn’t lessen what I feel and writing is the best therapy. So I would like to share a few brief stories about my Grandpa and who he was to me. Baseball is sprinkled in here and there, but I’m more concerned with remembering the man who has helped shape me. If I’ve shared these stories before, forgive me. I need to live them again.
One day when I was somewhere around the age of 8 or 9, my parents dropped me and my brother Levi off at my grandparents’ house while they went to run errands. Usually, my brother and I would run inside, watch T.V. and eat all the dessert our stomachs could hold. But on this day, for some reason, we were kicking around outside trying to find something to play with. We decided we wanted to play baseball, but we didn’t have any gloves, bases, bats or baseballs. After scrounging around for a bit, I found an old board that was about the length of a bat. It wasn’t rounded or anything and it promised plenty of splinters, but it looked as if it would do in a pinch. My brother rooted around and found one of those giant super balls. You know those huge versions of bouncy balls? They are not supposed to be hit with a bat at all and promised an evening of stinging hands, but we decided we were going to play anyways. We proceeded to let our grandparents know that if they wanted us, we would be playing baseball in the backyard. They surprised us by coming outside and joining us.
I don’t remember how we divided our teams, but somehow it ended up being my brother and I versus Grandpa and Grandma. I don’t remember what happened during our inning at the plate, but I will never forget an inning where my grandparents came to bat. I was pitching while my brother set up somewhere behind me. I’m sure I was probably thinking that I needed to be respectful to my grandmother and not throw her any knuckleballs, sliders, or splitters.* When I saw that she was in her stance waiting on my throw, I tossed the ball towards the plate. She surprised Levi and me by slashing a grounder right past my feet.
*8 or 9 year-old me was convinced he had at least 6 different pitches. In reality, I had one pitch. Straight and not very fast.
Once I got over my initial surprise, I ran towards the ball and picked it up, assuming I’d have time to run over to first for the force-out.
My grandma beat me by two steps.
I confusedly walked back to the “mound” and looked towards the plate. In stepped my Grandpa, left-handed and menacing. I remember thinking of how Ruthian he looked and how I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d pointed that old board out over our heads, calling his shot as the Babe once did himself.
I tried to throw my grandpa “junk,” but I think I knew what the outcome was going to be before I even let go of the ball. My grandfather absolutely destroyed the pitch, sending it skyrocketing over his and Grandma’s small vegetable garden. My brother and I tore after the ball, but by the time we had secured it, my grandpa and grandma had already rounded the bases.
I probably retell that story at least once a year to my parents. I just love the fact that rather than pretend that my pitches were too nasty for them, my grandparents played hard and knocked me out of the box. I still remember feeling awestruck watching how far Grandpa had hit that ball.
Another Grandpa/baseball-related instance I remember fondly happened last June. I went with my dad to visit my grandparents at their house and I ended up sitting at their kitchen table, watching the Royals play the Cardinals. During the first few innings, I watched the game by myself and as Grandpa would walk through the kitchen, he’d ask how the team was doing. Finally, he came in and sat down with me and started watching the game. We mostly watched in silence, aside from the occasional joke or observation. My grandfather was often a man of few words but I simply enjoyed just being around him. That was enough. I honestly don’t remember how long we stayed there. The game went 15 innings and I know I watched some of the extras with Grandpa because we couldn’t believe how long it was going. Honestly, the end-result doesn’t matter. I just remember it being a good day of watching baseball with my grandpa.
I’ve mentioned before that this is my first year teaching high school English. I’m somewhat of a worrier, so I spent most of my summer break thinking of all the things that could go wrong. Kids exploding….co-workers hating me….me maybe not actually knowing anything about English.
My dad took me back over to my grandparents’ house a few weeks before I had to move back down south to start my job. As my grandfather talked to my dad, my grandmother asked me how I felt and I told her how nervous I was. She told me it made sense to be nervous about a new job but that I’d get over that soon and get a little more used to it every day. We spent the rest of the time chatting about different things and eventually, the time came for Dad and I to leave. Very quickly, Grandpa asked me if I was ready to be a teacher. As I said before, my grandpa was a man of few words. I was a little surprised by his asking, but quickly poured out what I was feeling. I told him that I didn’t think I would be very good. I told him that I was nervous about dealing with a bunch of kids I didn’t know and a community I was unfamiliar with.
My grandpa smiled at me and said, “You’ll do fine. I’d bet on you.”
So, I’d like to say thanks to the man who showed me so often how he loved me in his actions. My grandpa was so good at just being there. He came to birthdays. He came to basketball games. He showed me how much he cared about me and my brother.
I’d like to say thank you to the man who, along with my father, has shown me the type of man I’d like to be.
I love you, Grandpa. I love you and I miss you. Thanks for all the memories you’ve given me. I look forward to seeing you again.
And thanks for beating the tar out of that pitch I threw all those years ago.