My grandmother came out to the front porch and told me to wash my hands, supper was ready. I told her they weren’t dirty and ran passed her into the house. She caught up with me, slapped my bottom and said, “Wash your hands or no supper.” That is my first memory. Both she and my mother said I shouldn’t be able to remember that, as I was barely three years old. I have no idea how old I was, but I remember it clearly. They say life is made up of moments- lasting memories of short-term happenings. They don’t have to be big events, but important to you. You tend to remember something said that hurt you, or conversely, compliments bestowed on you.
After living with my grandparents; (my mother’s folks), we lived in the rented house where my brother was born. “We,” being my mother, father and me. Then we lived on a farm in the Amish country of rural Ohio, then in government housing where many World War II veterans lived until the housing supply caught up with demand after the war.
This is where I learned to play baseball. I was almost always the youngest, almost always picked last when “choosing up sides” and almost always got the short end of the stick when trading baseball cards. No one wanted the “colored guy” cards, so I ended up with an inordinate number of Larry Doby cards, the first black player in the American League. But that’s another story.
Anyway, after moving into what was my folks’ first real home in the summer between my second and third grade, I continued with baseball, using a glove my uncle gave me, with no webbing and no padding. There were only 15 kids in my neighborhood with nine being boys. We played until after dark most days, or when my dad would come out on the front porch, stick two fingers in his mouth and whistle for me to come home to dinner.
We had all heard of “Little League,” and even knew a few kids at school who said they played for a team, but until one of my friend’s dads decided to actually form a team and enter us officially, we mostly remained clueless.
After trying out and then joining the team, we practiced twice a week and had one official game against various other teams in the region every Saturday. I was 10 years old when I started playing on the team, sponsored by a local mom and pop grocery store. In my last year of eligibility at age 12, I was playing second base. Our competitors had a man on first and a man on second with no outs. We had never played this team before and didn’t know much about their overall ability. I was playing behind and slightly to my left of the base when a line drive shot straight into my glove. I must have been as surprised as anyone watching that I had not only caught it, but not dropped it. The kid on second had taken off going to third, and the one on first was running, head down, toward second, not realizing that I had caught the ball. I stepped on second base and turned around and tapped the first base runner. An unassisted triple play!
Well, that’s one reason for this story, but not the only one. Other than being my one and only claim to childhood baseball fame – in my mind at least – and the coach calling me “Trip” for the balance of the season, it was this:
I was big for my age, and the coach from the other team came to my coach and told him he wanted to see my birth certificate. So, my coach asked me to bring it to him at the next practice. At the dinner table that evening, when I nonchalantly relayed the coach’s request to my folks, I can still see my mother’s face as she looked at my father as if to say, “Help.” I looked at her, I looked at my father, he looked at me then back at my mother, shrugged his shoulders, gesturing with his palms up. “Gotta happen sometime,” he said. We finished dinner, cleaned up the table and I went outside. Shortly afterwards, my mother called for me to come back into the house. She took me to our only bathroom, sat down on the edge of the bathtub and gestured for me to sit on the fuzzy toilet seat cover. “There is something I’ve been meaning to tell you for a long time,” she said, “a very long time, and I just didn’t know how, and the longer I’ve waited, the harder it’s become.”
I don’t know or remember what I was feeling at the time, but I do remember her next words. “Dad… your father… he’s… he’s not your real father.” I don’t know how this affected me at that very moment. And I don’t think I’m a good enough writer or storyteller to explain, but picture this: A thousand jigsaw puzzle pieces were floating above my head, up by the ceiling, and as soon as the words were out of her mouth, they came falling down, right in front of me and they all fit. Every one of them fit together perfectly and showed a picture, a very clear and precise picture that had been missing all my young years. Like all the times I would walk into a room where my mother and grandmother would be talking and would stop suddenly, look at me and smile. Or when a man’s name, which I did not recognize, would be mentioned, mostly in a whisper. I can’t name them all, but instantly, they all made sense. And the best part; the best part was it was all okay. Everything was good.
I have no idea what happened next; how my folks relayed all this to my coach. How everything worked out, but I can say this: I’ve talked to a great many people since then who were raised by non-biological fathers, and my own nonscientific survey result says this: I lucked out. I could not have asked for a better father.
So, those moments that make up life; these are two of mine. Both most likely took less than five minutes combined, but… they have lasted a very long time.