Annual Blast from the Past

 It’s Bat Day again!

I was raised an only child by kind and supportive parents. Sound middle-class values were expected, but discipline was gentle, love and respect evident, and abuse non-existent. This is the excuse I make for my inability to write good fiction.

Occasionally, though, stuff happened.

When I was in my early teens, the only thing that mattered in my world was baseball. School had always been a waste of time. Other sports were filler. Music was something I murdered on a dented trumpet. My idea of a terrific girl was one who could throw like a boy. (Come to think of it, that’s still my idea of a terrific girl.)

One spring back then, I got a new bat. They were still wood in those days, and this one was a 34-inch, flame-tempered, Jackie Robinson model Louisville Slugger. I carried it around with me, hoping to fall into pickup games here and there. One Saturday my parents, on their way to a wedding, dropped me off in the center of our little town, where I was supposed to get a haircut. But some friends were playing ball on the North Green, across Pleasant Street from the barber’s. Naturally, my bat and I diverted to the game and played until it broke up. Then I wandered over to read ancient comic books at Kenny’s and wait my turn. Got my ears lowered ($1.25) and walked the two miles home. My parents had recently returned. My mother was in the kitchen working on supper. My father, oddly, was stretched out on the padded built-in next to our fireplace in the living room, talking to himself. Vehemently.

“Well,” I thought after a quick look, “I’ll go out in the yard and take a few swings.” It was then I realized I’d left my bat at the barber’s.

Now, my father was (and remains) a kind and even solicitous man. An oath would occasionally pass his lips, but only for good cause, and never directed at family. And although he made a mean whiskey sour and loved a cold beer on a hot day, and a good party anytime, he wasn’t a big drinker. I’d never seen him wobbly, let alone delirious.

But on this warm Saturday, one of his boyhood friends had married a woman dad profoundly didn’t approve of. So, as I was to learn, he’d drunk deeply at the reception to keep his mind off the horror before him, and he had now settled into this rude, high-decibel, semi-conscious, horizontal raving about the all round awfulness of the lady in question and the unfathomable blindness of the groom.

But I needed my bat. And as a monomaniacally preoccupied innocent I returned to the living room and made the request I would have put to him on a normal Saturday afternoon. “Dad, I left my new bat down at the barbershop. Could you drive me down to get it?”

This gave him the chance to utter the sentence that, precisely because it was so toweringly uncharacteristic, has rung down the years in our family to the present day, a kind of facetious epigraphic standing joke that we and our closest friends savor, a line I’ve told him I’m planning to inscribe on his gravestone. “Ah,” snarled my kind father, my partner in hundreds of twilight catches, the man who had taught me how to hit and field and throw. “Ah,” he said, sounding frighteningly mean. “Ah, go get your own goddam baseball bat.”

Stunned almost to tears, I retreated to the kitchen and told my mother. She laughed, which was characteristic and therefore reassuring, explained the situation, and took me to get the bat. Which I broke a week or two later hitting a weak one-hopper to short.

Cut to the present. Mom’s gone (and, my God, we miss her so). Dad’s now living in the apartment over our garage. Paul, in the cottage in the back yard, is not only my daily walking partner, but has put his expertise in genealogy to work on the families of many of his friends (gleefully disproving  treasured myths about Indian princesses and narrow escapes from Titanic tragedy). One day last week, he was talking at tea to my dad and me about the recent release of the 1940 census. This gradually brought us around to my father’s youth, his old neighborhood, and his old friends. He began to talk about this particular friend, and, inevitably, his horrible wife. My contribution to the conversation was the inevitable banderilla, “Ah, go get your own goddam baseball bat.” We all laughed, and Paul asked me, “When was that?” I said I knew it was in the early ’60s, but I wasn’t sure which year.

Then we had a flash. If Paul could use his tracking skills to dig up the date of the wedding, we’d know exactly when this famous family event had occurred. Tap, tap. Nope. Wait a minute. Tap, tap. Birth and death records, but no marriage record. Let’s try the woman’s name. Tap, tap. Birth and death, mention of marriage, but no date. Hang on. Tap, tap. Got it. The date on which my family’s own Gettysburg address was uttered: June 2, 1962.

So we have a 50th anniversary coming up. Party? You bet. You’re invited, dad. Just be sure to bring your own goddam bottle.

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