When I woke up this morning I could see out my window that it was raining again. I liked it when it rained. It made the house feel more like a fort where you were safe and “cozy”. That was the word mom said. I liked being cozy inside when there was lots of weather outside. The bad part about when it rained was that I couldn’t ride my tricycle outside.
I did go for a walk with dad with our raincoats on. That was fun, but Molly couldn’t go because she wasn’t home. Everything was different outside when it rained. The weather was in charge instead of the people. It was washing everything off.
Dad would stick his tongue out to “taste the rain” and he got little drops of water on his glasses. I would taste it too. It was tastier and softer than the water that came out of the sink or the tub inside the house. The water made all the plants really green and shiny, and the grass too. Mom said that the grass was thousands of little plants all growing next to each other forming a “lawn” we could walk on. I had looked closely and seen this for myself. But when there was too much rain some grass got all squishy with mud. The flowers were all blooming because it was warm enough for them, like those special “bulbs” that mom had planted last fall. Not light bulbs but plant bulbs. They had all just grown up with very big red or yellow flowers. Also the lilac bushes across the street in the park had little purple flowers and smelled really sweet.
But now I was down in the basement playing. The rain still tapped on the small basement windows above me. Dad was over in his office working, but he was also listening to baseball on the radio. He said there was an “announcer” who was watching the game from a special “booth” and talking into a “microphone” that you could hear even far away with your radio. He said it was like when I talked to my grandparents on the telephone, they were far away too. He said today the announcer, his name was Van Patrick, was at the stadium of the New York team which was the Yankees. “Our” team, the “Tigers”, was playing against them and was ahead, “two to nothing”.
I knew what it meant to be “ahead”. Mom, who really liked numbers as much as dad liked words, had told me that “nothing” was another way of saying the number “zero”. “Zero” did not quite make sense to me because I used numbers for counting and I had never counted zero. She said that zero was how many of something you had if there was nothing to count. It seemed dumb to me, but she said in “mathematics”, the “study of numbers”, it was very important. Just as important as the word “nothing” was in “English”, the “study of words”.
Both mom and dad had explained to me that in sports, like baseball or football, you tried to score points. They called those points “runs” in baseball, because you had to run around all the “bases” to get one. I had seen kids and grownups play baseball in the park so I kind of knew how it all worked. The guy they called the “pitcher” was in the middle and he would throw the ball at the “batter” who would try to hit it with his bat. If he hit it in the right place then he would run around the bases, but sometimes he got “out” and had to go back to the “bench” and sit down and wait his turn to try again later.
You won a baseball game or a football game, she said, by having more points than the other team at the end of the game. That made sense. If you had two points and the other team had one at the end of the game, you won, because two was more than one. So the Tigers were ahead two runs to zero runs. They had more than the Yankees but the game was not over yet, so they were only ahead, but you still didn’t know if they would win, because the Yankees could still score more runs before the end of the game.
“Our team?” I asked just repeating dad’s words.
“Yeah Cloob”, he said with a serious face like this was important, “Our team is the Tigers, because they’re the Detroit team, and Detroit is the big city with a baseball team that’s closest to us”.
He could see I was not sure about that, I was “dubious” he would say.
He continued, “If we lived in New York, ‘our’ team might be the Yankees, because that would be the closest team to where we lived”.
He grabbed his cheeks with his hand and kind of rubbed them, which was something he did sometimes when he was thinking.
“Of course, I lived in New York but I hated the Yankees”, he said.
That got me really interested because he didn’t usually talk about things he liked or did not like, you just had to figure that out watching him if you could figure it out at all. Were the Yankees like the Germans during World War Two, or like the Soviet Union now? It didn’t seem like the same thing.
He could tell I was unsure. He was really good at figuring out what I was thinking because I hadn’t talked much before my third birthday.
“I always thought the Yankees were full of themselves”, he said, “Too big for their britches.” I could see in his eyes him thinking about what he had just said, then he started to chuckle. “I bet those two sentences make no sense to you at all!”
I shook my head. He laughed and his eyes sparkled. I always liked seeing that because that meant he was happy.
“The Yankees are bullies who always think they are the best”, he said.
As he said that I heard footsteps coming down the stairs slowly. It was mom. Her stomach was sticking way out because she was “pregnant”. She had told me about it a lot of times that I was going to have a brother or a sister soon, though it did not make a lot of sense to me. She slowly sat down on the bottom stairs.
“The Yankees ARE the best”, she said with a big smile on her face. “Your grandparents and I used to listen to the games on the radio when I was a kid. They are still MY team!”
Now this was all getting very interesting. Dad had lived in New York which was close to the Yankees but he didn’t like them, and now he liked the Tigers because he lived here in Michigan and now they were the closest team. Mom came here too from New York and she liked the Yankees. Now she lived here but she still liked the Yankees.
“What’s the score?”, she asked.
“Two nothing Detroit, top of the third”, dad said.
“Who’s pitching for the Yankees?” she asked.
“Whitey Ford”, he said
“He’s the Yankees best pitcher, right?”. She said that to dad but then glanced at me and raised her eyebrows like some signal that she and I had a secret that dad didn’t know.
“Eric… I’ll bet you a buck the Yankees win”. She smiled and then looked at me to explain. “I’m so sure that the Yankees are the best that I’ll bet even though they’re behind! That’s how good they are.”
Dad chuckled, looked at mom, and gave her a fierce kind of smile. “Liz, you’re on!”
The voice on the radio wasn’t talking about the game anymore, but about “buying” a new car at “Roy O’Brien’s at Nine Mile and Mack”, wherever that was. Dad went back to his work. He was reading these blue “booklets” with white paper inside them and using a red pencil to “grade” them. He had told me before that meant to give a student a “score”, but a letter like A, B or C, rather than a number, for how good their writing was. But then he would also write down what they could do to make their writing better next time.
Mom, still sitting on the bottom stairs, looked around like she wanted to do something.
“Hey Cloob”, she said. She was calling me that name that dad liked to call me rather than “Zuper” now. “Throw me a wiffle ball, one of the big ones.”
I went to the shelves where all my toys were and took a big white plastic ball with holes in it out of a wood box. I threw it to her and she caught it.
“Wow… good arm lefty!” she said.
She held the ball in front of her and waved it at me. “Try to catch it?”
Standing there on the basement floor, I nodded and put my hands in front of me. She threw the ball to me and I tried to grab it out of the air but it bounced off my hands.
“Nice try”, she said “You got your hands on it!”
I ran over to the ball and took it in my hand again. She held her hands up in front of her, fingers spread, and I knew she wanted me to throw it back to her, which I did. She caught it.
“Okay”, she said, holding the ball right down on the floor, “Ground ball this time”. She rolled the ball towards me. I bent over and grabbed it when it got close. That was easy. I threw it back to her.
“He’s out!” she said, making a fist with her thumb out and raising it in the air. I smiled.
“One hopper”, she said, and threw the ball and though I reached out it bounced in front of me, and as i pulled my hands back the ball hit my thumbs but bounced toward me. I pulled my hands back towards my body and managed to hold the ball between my arms and my chest.
“All right! Now throw him out at first”, she said, holding out her hands. I threw her back the ball and she caught it. “He’s out!” She did the fist and thumb again. I could see dad was smiling though he still was reading and writing in the blue books.
“Eric”, she said, “You remember the first time we met?”
Dad made a big smile and he looked up in the air thinking.
“I remember it was the semis of the IBM tournament in ‘43” he said, “I was covering your upset win over what’s her name.”
“Betty Wilson”, mom said.
“She didn’t know what hit her until you went up a break in the second set”, he said.
Mom could see that I was not understanding what they were talking about. She looked at me and I could see in her eyes she was remembering.
“Your dad worked for the newspaper and he wrote about the IBM tennis championship I was playing in”, she said
I wasn’t quite sure what that all meant. I knew what a newspaper was and what playing tennis was, and though not sure what a “championship” was, I had an idea that “champion” was something good. “IBM” was something mom talked about a lot when she talked about “New York”.
Dad turned from reading the blue book to look at me and then mom. “Your mom was quite the tennis player. She won several local tournaments.”
“Was!” mom said, looking deep into my eyes, and I could see some sadness in hers. “I don’t get to play much anymore.”
“Well, Liz”, dad said it like she was wrong, “We got out there and played until we found out you were pregnant.”
Mom squeezed her lips together like she did when she was mad. “It wasn’t the same Eric. I’m talking about real competitive tennis, not just a casual game.”
Dad seemed to maybe be mad now too, but you couldn’t hear it in his voice. “I gave you a run for your money sometimes!”
Mom puffed out her cheeks and then blew air out of her mostly closed lips. “It’s not the same Eric. You’re a man. You’re bigger and you can hit harder.”
Mom gave a fierce look in his direction, but then got quiet and thinking and her head turned to look at me.
“My point was that your father and I both love sports, and here we have you, our son, who seems to enjoy them as well, and we enjoy sharing all that with you.” Her eyes twinkled and she smiled at me. Grownups seemed more like me when they talked about their feelings. Mom did that much more than dad.
The voice on the radio got louder and more excited.
“Who hit a double for the Yankees?”, mom asked, she was excited too.
“Whitey Ford”, dad said, “But I think Kuenn misplayed it in center!”
“Hey, a double is a double”, she said, flashing more twinkly eyes at me, “How about that! Whitey Ford is a good pitcher and he can hit too! That’s unusual. Right Eric?”
Dad nodded and chuckled.
“Who’s up next?” she asked.
“Bauer”, he said, “The leadoff hitter”.
“All right”, she said, “Another base hit will drive in the run. Go Yankees!”
They both listened to the guy talking on the radio. I noticed the voice rising when he said “the pitch”, and then falling to say either “ball” or “strike” and then some other stuff. Then his voice rose for “the pitch” but then rose higher for “base hit to right”, followed by “Ford rounds third”.
“Yeah!” mom called out, making another kind of thing with her fist, different from the “he’s out” one she made with her thumb sticking up. Dad shook his head, but said nothing, still looking at an open blue booklet. She looked at me. “Those are my Yankees Cloob, they keep coming. They’ve got talent and they never give up. That’s what makes them the best!” She had a look on her face like it really was not so serious, but just fun. “At least in my opinion!”
She wagged her finger at dad. “Better have that dollar ready Eric!”
Dad chuckled. “Yeah I got it Liz, but we’ll see!”
Mom seemed to have even more energy now.
“How about you, lefty”, she said, groaning as she stood up, “You want to take a few swings?”
I looked at her and I wasn’t sure what to say. When one of them took me to the park it was always boys or men playing baseball, never girls or women. Dad had thrown the ball to me a few times so I could try to hit it. I always got nervous playing with grownups, but I really liked trying to hit the ball, so I would do it. But mom was a woman. Was she supposed to do stuff like this?
“You know”, she said, seeing that I was unsure and then looking at me more carefully, “Before I taught myself to play tennis I played baseball with the boys in the neighborhood. When they picked teams I was the only girl who wanted to play, but I was such a good player I always got picked first!” Her eyes lit up and her face was filled with a big smile.
Mom liked to say stuff like that, about how good she was. Dad never said anything like that. I had watched him play baseball and tennis, and he always tried really really hard to be good and win, but he never talked about it. I had never seen mom play baseball, and I could barely remember her playing tennis.
I looked at dad to see if he was okay with all this. Again, I felt strange playing with them. I had gotten used to playing in the basement when one of them was down here working at their own stuff while I played. This was different, they were both looking at me. But baseball was not something you could do by yourself. You did it with other people.
Dad looked in our direction and smiled. “Cloob’s got a nice swing. You’ll see!”
That changed things, I thought. Now it would be bad not to do it. I grabbed the plastic bat and stood like dad had shown me and like the guys did in the park. Not facing the person that was pitching but facing to the side, but turning my head to see them throw the ball towards me. I felt I had to do everything the right way because they were both watching. I was nervous.
My mind was still thinking about mom saying she was good at baseball, when she threw the ball towards me. Still thinking, I swung at it and missed. The ball bounced off the shelves behind me and rolled back towards her.
“Good swing”, she said, reaching down to grab the ball and groaning some more.
From his office chair across the basement dad said, “Keep your eye on the ball Cloob!”
She tossed it towards me again and I swung. This time I just barely hit the ball and it went up, and bounced off the top part of the basement and then back down and off my arm and rolled into the corner
“You okay?” she asked, though not looking too worried. It was just a wiffle ball, not a real baseball. Those real ones were really hard.
I nodded. I got the ball and threw it back to her. Dad had gone back to his work. I got ready again to swing and looked at her. I could tell she could see that I was nervous and thinking too much.
“When I’m about to hit a tennis ball that’s coming towards me”, she said, “I look to try to see the seams on the ball.” She looked down at the wiffle ball in her hand. “If I were trying to hit a wiffle ball, I guess I’d look at the holes.”
That didn’t make sense to me, but when she threw the ball toward me I saw the holes spinning. I swung at it and there was a thud. The ball flew across the basement and hit the side of the furnace and made a loud clang before bouncing once on the floor and then off the wall on the other side of the basement. When he heard the noise dad looked up from his work and smiled.
“There we go”, mom said to me, then glancing at dad, “Base hit to right! The kid’s a natural, Eric.” Dad nodded and grinned. They both seemed happy.
I could see her start to get down on one knee, but she groaned a little and stopped, looked at me and said, “Do your ole mom a favor and get me the ball!”
I ran and got it and handed it to her.
“How are my Yankees doing?” she asked dad.
“They’re out of the third with just the one run. Two one Tigers.” Then with more feeling in his voice. “That dollar’s got a dozen donuts written all over it!” Dad loved donuts more than anything.
“Okay”, mom looked at me, waving the ball in front of her, “Cloob one’s on first, Cloob two’s up, another lefty folks.”
Mom continued to throw the ball to me, and a couple more swings and I hit it again, this time bouncing along the floor and onto the rug in dad’s corner of the basement.
“Cloob two gets a base hit to center”, she said, “Cloob one rounds second and”, she paused and winked at me, “he’s headed to third!”
Dad went and got the ball this time and tossed it to mom.
“First and third, no outs”, she called out, “Cloob three comes to the plate. Yet another lefty, ladies and gentlemen!” I could see dad chuckle as he continued to read a bluebook.
Liking mom’s pretending, dad turned round in his wood chair to face us. They were both now looking at me.
I swung at and missed three times in a row.
“Ooo”, she said, “Out swinging but he had his cuts ladies and gentlemen!” Then with the ball in her hand again, “But only one out folks!”
I swung and missed one more time before hitting one hard right at mom.
She stuck her hand out and caught it. She didn’t even use the other hand at all. Wow, I thought. She really COULD do this baseball stuff.
“That’s Jane Zale on the mound”, she said, “Snagging that sizzling linedrive from Cloob four.”
“Two outs”, she said, “It’s all up to Cloob five, yet another lefty, ladies and gentleman.” She threw the ball to me. I had to reach out with my bat but I hit the ball hard toward dad. Still sitting in his chair he reached out and caught it.
“Ohh”, mom said, making a pretend sad face, “Great catch by that center fielder for the Tigers, the kid from Pennsylvania.”
“Hey Liz”, dad said, “I’m just a fan sitting in the bleachers with a souvenir to give to my son. That’s a dinger!”
“A dinger?” mom asked.
“A home run”, he responded.
“The fans go wild!” mom called out, then in different voices, “Yay, wow, whoopee”. Then continuing, “Cloob five waves to the fans as he trots ‘round the bases”.
The Tigers ended up scoring eight more runs by the end of the game and the final score was ten to one. Mom had gone up to the kitchen to make lunch. When I ran upstairs and told her the score she said, “You win some and you lose some!”
Dad went out later in the day and came home with a dozen donuts from this place called “Quality Bakery”. He liked the plain ones, but he also bought some with chocolate “icing” on top for mom, and vanilla on top with sprinkles for me.
At bedtime, he came into my room as he always did and sat in the rocking chair. He carefully set the Tom Sawyer book on his lap like it was very special. The book was closed but a piece of paper stuck out from between the pages. He picked up the book with one hand and with two fingers of the other hand touched the top of the pages all pressed together between the closed covers. His two fingers touched the piece of paper coming out of the top of the book and he opened it.
“Okay Cloob”, he said, “Chapter 31. You ready?”
I didn’t say “yes”, just nodded without using any words. I had only really been talking since my birthday, so it still felt regular just to nod. I was more than ready. This is one of the things I liked best each day.
Tom and Becky were lost in the cave and lit candles, one at a time, to see in the dark. Becky got scared and started to cry. Tom tried to make her feel better. When I saw the story in my mind I was Tom and Becky was Molly. I remembered when Molly fell off the merry-go-round and cried, but not because she was hurt, but because she was scared. I didn’t try to make Molly feel better, but the grownups did. Grownups felt they had to make kids feel better, and make sure they were okay. But also grownup men felt that they had to keep grownup women safe and make them feel better too. Tom and Becky were pretending to be grownups I guess.
Then both Tom and Becky were scared by all the “bats” flying in the cave. Not “bats” like baseball bats, but flying animals that were pretty scary. Dad had shown me a bat in the sky the other day when it was starting to get dark. He had got a pinecone on the ground and thrown it up in the air at the bat. The bat then changed which way it was flying and followed the pinecone straight down almost to the ground. It was exciting and scary too. Dad said it was not a bird but more like a mouse, a mouse with wings. It felt like a thing that was “wild”, a thing of the dark, and not what we people were, we were people of the light. So one bat was scary enough, I figured what a hundred bats would be like. All that being wild.
Finally the last candle that Tom and Becky had was gone and it was all dark. I liked how Tom was smart to give Becky one end of the string and take the other end himself when he explored the cave, so he could use it to go back and find her in the dark. And then he saw a person with a candle and thought the grownups had found them but it was Injun Joe instead. Injun Joe was a grownup, but a lot of the other grownups thought he was a badguy. Like that pirate guy Long John Silver in Treasure Island, though Long John Silver was sometimes nice, at least to Jim, because Jim was a kid.
When he finished reading, dad said there were just a few more chapters to read and he seemed maybe a little sad, though he would never say so. I wondered if men pretended not to be sad so they could help women when they were sad.
When he stopped reading the story, it was time to sing. I loved it when dad sang because it was easier to tell how he was feeling. Now I was trying to sing with him because it made both of us feel better when I did. Along with singing some of the usual songs, he added a new one about baseball…
Take me out to the ball game
Take me out with the crowd
Buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks
I don’t care if I never get back
Let me root, root, root for the home team
If they don’t win it’s a shame
For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out
At the old ball game
That was the last song. Now it was time to say goodnight, and he always did the same thing. He got up from the chair, and came over to the foot of my bed. He felt around in my covers to find one of my big toes and wiggled it, saying, “Sweet dreams kiddo!” That was a different funny name he only called me at bedtime, I didn’t know why.
After he left I waited for mom to come in.
She looked at me with her big warm eyes and shook her head and frowned. “Cloob, you don’t know how much I wish I could carry a tune like your dad. Life is not fair!”
She did what she almost always did and kissed me on the cheek.
“Night night my sweet little slugger!”
“Night night mom.” I wondered if “slugger” was another one of those funny “nicknames” they kept coming up with for me.