The Big Brick Review - Sundry Bricks
Building on the narrative of our lives...one brick at a time.
|Selections from our 2015 open submissions:||BATHROOM by Joy Underhill|
|BUILDING SAFETY by Cynthia Weissbein||CHOCOLATE RABBITS by Patricia Roth Schwartz|
|RAINBOW HARBOR by Kelly Shaw||THE BUILDING BOX by Rose Quinnan|
|FROM HAIR TO ETERNITY by Theresa Sanders||HOME by Jenna Marcellus|
|RUN, CATCH, AND KISS by Mary Purdy||FIRSTS by M. Justine Foster|
|FOURPLEX by Christine Green||SPRING by David Brabec|
by Cynthia Weissbein
ON THE WAY to the hospital, a small suitcase on my lap, I thought about pain. Not the pain of childbirth, surprisingly, but a sudden recognition of my impending dependency. “He could hurt me,” I thought, “He could really hurt me.” The “he” I was referring to was my husband, and the fear I was experiencing was of vulnerability.
I had faced this fear before at the time of our wedding. Combining our incomes, giving up my independence to move to a new home and become a wife, was a scary step. But having a baby, quitting my job, and becoming completely dependent on someone, now this was terrifying. Although it was a choice I planned and desired, the potential risk of heartbreak and financial ruin seemed downright dangerous.
Now, many choices later, we approach our 20th wedding anniversary and I realize that each leap of faith in each other we took was a building block. Stretching to take on a mortgage for a house we longed for, deciding that our daughters would be raised in my faith, and supporting his desire to start his own business, these everyday risks and how we negotiated them, over time, built a marriage strong and safe enough to house the both of us.
We have reached the age when many couples we know are splitting up. As our teenagers begin to look toward college, many of my daughter’s friends are being informed by their parents that a marital separation was long overdue. I must admit a bit of survivor guilt as I watch families mourn their losses and wrestle with the endless complications of separate households, new partners, and raw emotion. We have also reached the age when our parents are declining and the burden of care falls on our shoulders. We moved my mother to live with us as she faces a cruel and debilitating progressive disease. My husband’s generosity in welcoming this responsibility was the most loving gesture I had ever received.
And yet, even as we celebrate, our relationship remains complicated. I have moments fantasizing about a home free of his assorted piles of junk and papers and I am sure he has times he wished he’d married a better cook. In sharing our lives so intimately the layers of life’s compromises build up, leaving roots behind that feed my insecurities. But with time, the depth of our interdependency and mutuality also thickens. My need for him strengthens as does my fear of losing him. As we age together, the reality that we are always vulnerable becomes clear and that giving my heart away also means giving up control.
I am lucky that my husband is a good man, and that I am a good enough woman. Things could have gone much differently throughout the many moments of despair and disappointment inevitable in any life. I look back to that ride to the hospital and I am grateful for the innumerable building blocks, one cemented in each time we could have betrayed each other and didn’t, could have criticized and wouldn’t, and instead simply offered the benefit of the doubt. It is with these small gestures that lasting love is built.
Cynthia explores and ponders the human condition both as a writer and as a psychologist. She writes personal essays and has recently dipped her toes in the world of blogging, writing about the complex process of change.
by Joy Underhill
HER STEP QUICKENS, barely touching the stair runners. He is after her again, his gait unsteady and heavy behind her. She always beats him to the bathroom and secures the only lock in our house.
I am listening under the sheets, shadows passing under the door. He will rage and pound on the door, spend himself over hours, and pass out near morning. She will emerge and get ready for another day of work.
As a child, my mother’s silent composure seemed stoic, even refined. Later it smacked of cowardice. I’ve often wondered what she did in that room all night. I imagined her perched on the edge of the tub, smoking cigarette after cigarette, watching the moon slide up the window. Maybe she cleaned the mirror of toothpaste and shaving cream. I never learned during those long nights if silence sedates anger, or ignites it.
Now it’s my turn. Marriage brought with it a shabby case of old problems that spill out on the floor and drive us into corners, protecting unseen wounds. Now I end up behind the bathroom door. I remind myself that I am not my mother, but I wear her fear when our fights get hot. And like her, I seek this room full of mirrors and clean, precise lines.
My husband’s temper burns like magnesium: brilliant and brief. He barks, storms away, returns apologetic and grudgeless. Once he’s purged, we can begin to unravel the dark thread that runs through any marriage. But in his flash of anger, I’m as vulnerable as a blank page, waiting for another splash of ink to write my history.
So into the bathroom I slip, mother a ghost at my side, to rock mechanically on the floor. It's better if you just cry, I hear her say across the years. And I do as I'm told, as if I were eight again and my mother had the power, this time, to help me through those terrible nights.
She's right, of course. It’s better after I cry. I begin to hear things: the drip of the tub faucet, the settling of the house funneled up through the heating vents. The toilet has begun running all the time, asking me to jiggle its handle, but I let it complain because it comforts me, this sound of need. I stare out the tiny window as the moon etches soft shadows under the tree. I wonder if I can ever escape the echoes of the past, the ones I’m only now beginning to hear.
I listen to the house, my life, measure out time, and feel my husband’s final words lose definition. And then I notice he’s putting together dinner, shuffling pots, chopping vegetables. He knows enough not to knock at the door. I’ll come out in my own time.
I wipe a tile free of dust and think of the long years that have accumulated between my mother and me. I won't tell her of this, my choice of bathroom as sanctuary, even though she has long since dumped her need for one and the husband who fostered it. But I have a feeling she'd sit on the edge of the tub, listening with me, until we both felt it was safe to come out. And together, we would slip back the lock.
Joy Underhill is a freelance writer and photographer. Her latest project is “Stories By Joy,” featured on Facebook, which consists of tributes in poetry and photography for special lives and events.
by Kelly Shaw
I WAS ADOPTED, aged eight years, by a Scottish family, and moved from the home to an island in the Inner Hebrides. The Isle of Mull.
I had to learn some new tricks, a new set of rules, accepting that beauty has no single place, and that a Cimmerian shore doesn’t have to hold my heart. Life could not be better than when damned by the rainbow. And so it was I found my new family, and a new life in a place that was to cast its spell on my heart and soul, scattering every trial
of guilt. My father explained that one’s life had to be large enough to cope with the strength and beauty of its shoreline.
My father would talk to me about pathways, the tors, and bluffs that don’t bluff, or boast, but stimulate and inspire when treading along the winding road of adventure. It’s bouquet of scenery quite as stunning, aromatic, as fragile and rugged as nature
designed it to be.
Adventure was everywhere. But the greatest of these was riding the bus down alongside the ‘Sound’ to Craignure, and the car ferry across to Oban. While other kids sat in the warmth of the ferry's canteen during those blustery winter morning crossings, with threatening rain clouds hanging low over the waters, I stood at the bow, letting the sharp wind crisp my ears until they felt like ice packs on the side of my head. Hurting so much I entered the classroom crying with pain, tears streaming down my face.
Mrs. Braebrook would shake her head, grab my hand and pull me down the corridor to the school's boiler room. ‘Read this,' she'd say, thrusting a book into my hand, ‘come back to class when you've thawed out.' And then leave me with a smile on her face and a chocolate bar in my hand. I was a ridiculous kid. She said that, too.
Weekends on the island meant every minute of daylight was spent at the harbor. I was going to be a fisherman, and I told my father so. He'd smile. ‘Your head's too much in the clouds, son,' he'd say. I didn't properly understand what he meant, so at twelve years of age I'd scrape barnacles off trawler hulls, make huge mugs of tea to earn a few pennies. The men would ruffle my hair, poke fun at my tent-sized jumpers, those knitted by my mother, and threaten to hoist my long baggy shorts aloft. Whenever the trawlers were in, I was there. To a man each of my father’s crewmen contributed to my
education. It might have been learning a certain kind of knot, perhaps how to sew a lobster pot, how to sort crabs, fillet a fish, but also, to a man, each taught me about love, even though life on the island was about beer and bread and hard times.
I thought once I'd never get the island out of my head, that it would haunt me for the leaving. I was a boy the first time I found myself enraptured by Mull’s mystical beauty, and a man by the time I’d found the strength to leave its heart-folding shores.
Kelly Shaw is retired from a life-long career in Her Majesty’s Coastguard. He now lives in Mendocino, but returns to the island these days as an older man just to hear the snow fall, to feel protected from storms of life, hear the screech of the gulls, smell the lobster pots, and taste the salt air cleaning his throat.
by Patricia Roth Schwartz
SQUINTING INTO THE sun, our eyes were always pinched shut, pastel skirts afloat on three starched crinolines each billowing around us. My Toni Home Perm kinky curls bulged from my head always underneath a hat of net and velveteen with fake roses, my sister’s bangs hung not quite evenly cut, our smiles tight and forced from all the waiting. We’d have to switch off: one pose with our mother in a suit she used to tell him was last year’s even though new, smiling tentatively, then one pose with him, grinning, gripping our hands. Our enormous Easter baskets lay at our feet, already plundered of all the jelly beans but black, all the foil-wrapped one-sided flat eggs filled with maple cream or strawberry, and of course the marshmallow peeps. One year my sister held up her cat for the lens, scrunching him so tightly he left her bloody once he was allowed to flee.
We were fearful girls, our faces tell the camera, clothes-proud but not pretty, although my sister became so later, while I, cat’s eyes glasses always a-tilt, looked worse and worse as the years went by. I gave up the fake roses but not the bad perms. The fear lingered too. What he wanted he got: stand still, don’t squint, stand up straight, don’t get contacts, don’t move away, listen to me when I‘m speaking, boxing us in by those deckle-edged squares, just the way he wanted us to be, chocolate rabbits just out of reach.
It took me decades. I went where I wanted to go. I closed my ears. Now I know my own beauty and my bravery. I do not celebrate Easter.
Patricia Roth Schwartz is a poet, fiction writer, and writer of creative non-fiction. She lives in the Finger Lakes amidst hummingbirds and herbs, where she writes does collage art and builds fairy houses.
From Hair to Eternity
by Theresa Sanders
"LOOK AT THIS," Mom said, holding up a little glass sugar bowl. It was beautiful and unique, with delicate, hand-painted flowers gracing its surface. “I got it as a wedding gift. Oh, and look! Here’s the creamer.”
We sat on her bedroom floor, the treasures of her hope chest spread out around us like seashells sparkling in the sun. Dad had died three years before, and Mom was finally making the move from the town where she’d lived her whole life to my city four hours away.
“And here’s something else.” She unwrapped a small package, its plastic crinkling with age. “This isn’t what you’d expect for an heirloom.”
She was right about that.
There, in her hand, was a light brown braid, over a foot in length. “This was cut when I was ten. Your grandma just snipped it right off.”
“I can’t picture you wearing braids, Mom,” I said.
“Well, I did. All the time. Hair lasts forever, you know. You’ll want to save this after I’m gone.”
The idea made me feel slightly weird. There was a bit of an ICK-factor, though I didn’t know why. We keep our babies’ first snippets of hair, after all, so why was this any different? Still, I side-stepped the issue: “I wouldn’t mind having that sugar bowl and creamer.” Mom’s face fell at my words, and she looked so hurt that I vowed, “Oh, Mom, of course I’ll keep your braid. For all eternity. It’s a HAIR-loom.”
“Ha-ha,” she said.
The braid wasn’t mentioned again until we unpacked it at her new home, when a similar conversation ensued. It was clearly important to Mom, but somehow, her long-ago lock didn’t hold as much “heirloom” weight for me as the hope chest I’d inherited from my grandmother or the clock that had been passed down through successive generations on my husband’s side.
These were true gifts, bona-fide heirlooms, familial building blocks that connected and supported lineage. But what, specifically, made something an heirloom? Was it constructability, viability, marketability? Was it price, quality, condition?
I wasn’t sure I knew, but shortly after Mom’s move, my husband and I were cleaning our basement, rearranging boxes stored by our four children, when I came upon something odd in my younger son’s box. There, packed among his He-Man action figures, I found a plain white envelope. On the outside, in my daughter’s handwriting, were the words: “Mom’s Hair, 1990.”
I couldn’t believe my eyes. Sure enough, inside lay a snippet of my hair! That my children had collected it, put it in an envelope and dated it, melted my heart.
“Eww, Mom,” said my daughter when I questioned her about it. “That’s just gross.”
My face fell at her words. “But you saved it, honey.”
“It wasn’t me, Mom.”
“It wasn’t me,” my son countered.
Neither child wanted to cop to the deed. I guess there was a bit of an ICK-factor.
But I later decided it didn’t matter. That snippet was my HAIR-loom. It told part of my story – and part of theirs. I packed it away safe and sound in Gram’s hope chest, to keep for all eternity.
Theresa Sanders lives in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, where she is revising a novel. A former award-winning technical writer, she managed a Documentation and Training department before turning to her first love, creative writing. Her stories appear regularly in the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Contact Theresa at: TheresaLSanders@charter.net or stop by her Facebook page: www.facebook.com/TheresaSanders, Author.
The Building Box
by Rose Quinnan
IT WAS RAINING the day the box arrived. The UPS driver had left it on the front porch steps. There was a chance the box would’ve never been opened if it hadn’t been left out in the rain. I had to check for damage.
I felt a little silly really. Too old for such things. Still, as I cut the packing tape and lifted the smaller boxes out, there was a hint of Christmas mornings past. I unwrapped each piece of the sturdy wooden furniture. Each small box contained a room. I left the people box till last. Everything was intact.
I set it up in my basement. This was definitely a basement project. I imagined my grandfather building it. Was it a basement project then or did he have a workshop out in a shed or garage somewhere? Too late to ask. Everyone who knew its distant past was dead. It had been built for my mother in the thirties. A time when grown men had a lot of time on their hands.
My grandfather had left Ireland a little over 10 years before. Already he must have felt his dream of a better life shifting under the weight of the Great Depression. Maybe that is why he put such care into crafting this house for his daughter.
The two story house was approximately three by four feet and solidly built. It was not like the plastic Barbie stuff I was used to from my childhood. This was made of real wood and there was glass in the front windows. There was even glass in the narrow transom over the front door. A hand carved fireplace mantle graced the living room. The house had been crudely wired for electricity. A string of Christmas tree lights, the wires still encased in fraying cloth, were strung from room to room via holes in adjoining walls. The paint must have been white once but after eighty years, it had mellowed to a creamy gray. The roof was still red; the window trim still green. Only one window was broken.
It had been broken as long as I could remember. My mother talked about having my Dad fix it when the house sat in the playroom in the seventies. That never happened but it was spruced up a bit. My mother and I pored through catalogs one December looking at doll house furniture. We ordered a dining room table, some chairs and a bookcase. When the box arrived, the pieces seemed too small and delicate for the house. There was no time or money to order more. My mother knitted some wool rugs for the floors and moved on to other projects.
The house was eventually relegated to the attic of my childhood home. And now, it sat in my basement. My mother had left it to me. I finished the rewiring project a few weeks ago. Next, I had glass cut at the hardware store and I fixed the front window. Then I carefully pieced together the rickety picket fence that went around the “yard.” I had an urge to paint the fence bright white but didn’t.
The restoration is complete. I am able to begin filling up the empty spaces with furniture. I think about making some curtains. I had always wanted curtains. I hang a splotchy doodle my son made in a tiny frame on the living room wall. In this world, it could be a Jackson Pollock.
And now for the people: father in the living room standing by the fireplace, mother and grandmother sitting in the kitchen, children scattered throughout the bedrooms and spilling out into the yard. It is time to turn on the lights. Things can get a bit gloomy in my basement. The cheery Christmas light shines out through the windows. I can see the shadows of the wooden people on the wooden walls. In this world, they are more than just shadows and memories; they are solidly there. There in their sturdy home my grandfather built.
Rose Quinnan is originally from the Southern Tier of Western NY State. She now works in Health Information Technology in Rochester.
Run, Catch, and Kiss
by Mary Purdy
I'M DASHING AWAY from the boys in a breathless game of Run, Catch and Kiss. “R.C.K”, we call it, the simple sequence of letters easily conjuring up thrilling terror. It’s dusk, the day light on its last legs—a marriage of pink and grey—and the idea of one of them catching me and kissing me knots my stomach shooting a flurry of sparks into my bloodstream. The wind catches and kisses me first, meeting my out breath as I scamper from the 11 year olds pursuing me as nature has designed them to do – like squiggly sperms swimming towards the egg. I must have her! I must get her! She will be mine.
There is one boy wearing a Sherlock Holmes cap who is chasing me relentlessly. I’m not interested in him but the allure of danger is still there. I am fast. I have thin nimble legs and a will to run quickly and I outrun him every time.
There’s another boy: funny, with blue jay eyes and a mop of sandy brown hair swooping down over one eye and I think I might like him. He starts the chase after me and I slow down my gait, become less swift, falter, and then purposely trip and fall. And he has “caught” me, is on top of me in a boyish, non-domineering way, looking surprised to find himself so close to the prey he has been pursuing. I feign surprise. Try to appear as if Oh no! I’ve been caught! How did that happen? I am Penelope Pitstop on the train tracks. Save me! Help, help! And he goes in for the kiss – quick, sloppy, puckish, uncommitted but still a buzz for my brain, Bubble Yum breath on my face for a millisecond and then it’s over. I’m back up dashing away from Sherlock Holmes who is in hot pursuit of me again—confidence reignited after seeing me snared. He laughs, his eyes like buzzing darts. I laugh too and speed up, my legs wobbly from the extra exertion and the novelty of having mashed mouths with someone of the opposite sex. He keeps after me, yelling “You’re too fast you’re too fast” and the sky is becoming a shadow and we are called back to camp, the game is over. I already cannot wait for the next round the following evening. Who will chase me? Who will tackle me? Touch my thin chapped lips?
Mary Purdy has mostly performed her material at literary evenings and story telling events but have had several pieces published in http://thehiggsweldon.com/happy-anniversary/ and http://midlifecollage.com/2013/02/17-50/. Mary maintains a blog of flash non-fiction/fiction at http://thewilyavocado.tumblr.com/ and some longer pieces (mostly humorous) at www.PurdyWoman.blogspot.com.
by Jenna Marcellus
I CRINGE AS the thought creeps across my mind for the thousandth time today: I hope no one buys this house. This officially makes me the most selfish person on the planet. After twenty-eight years, my parents have decided to sell our house and migrate south for, well, forever. I know that I should be supportive. I don't even live here anymore. But this house? It's all I have ever known. The familiar creak of the third stair from the top of the landing. The feel of the damp wooden deck beneath my bare toes. The indescribable smell that somehow permeated all my clothing while at college—subtly, yet powerfully, calling me back home.
Packing up my room is the worst part. What does one do with childhood trophies? Mom and Dad don't need them, and I am certainly not going to create a shrine to my very minimal athletic talents. (Seriously, why do they give trophies for 'Most Enthusiastic?') Some of the knick-knacks and photos are from my nursery and, while I don't even remember their significance, I know it will break my mother's heart if I don't take them with me. And so I pack it all up, compartmentalizing things into neat little boxes labeled "Jenna's stuff."
It's strange to me how much a house—made of beams, shingles, and hardwood floors—can mean to a person. This place holds so many memories that I'm not sure I'll ever be as connected to a physical place as I am here. I'm afraid. I'm afraid that I will never feel the way I do when coming home to a different place. I'm afraid that the future owners will not appreciate this house and all its wondrous, flawed glory. Most of all, I'm afraid that my future children will never see or understand the place that built me.
As I drive away for the last time, I am struck by the sudden realization that I am home-less, not in the true sense of the word, but without a place to which I can trace my roots. This new identity feels heavy, like an oversized bag of groceries you are forced to lug up three flights of stairs. It is uncomfortable. As quickly as these thoughts enter my mind, they are interrupted by the vision of my parents. My parents who have worked so hard for so long to live out their dream. I imagine the frighteningly real sense of freedom they must be experiencing and I finally understand how all of this works. It's scientific, like Newton's third law: for every action, there must be an equal and opposite reaction. Someone must pick up and carry on the burden that another untangles from.
And this time, that someone is me.
Jenna Marcellus is both a Reading and English teacher and a self-proclaimed lover of language. She currently resides in Pittsford, New York.
by Christine Green
TODAY ON THE phone my mother says, “When we were landlords...”
“What do you mean ‘landlords’?”
“Your dad and I built a fourplex in Colorado Springs when you were just a baby. Those apartments were supposed to make us rich.”
“You never told me!” I exclaim.
“Oh really? That’s odd,” is her reply.
Usually, when my mother relates some story or memory that I don’t remember she becomes annoyed at me, “I’ve told you this a hundred times, honey.”
But today is different. When I ask her why she never mentioned it she says it was just so long ago. It just never came up.
To me, though, it is a big deal. The imagined life I had forty-one years ago in Colorado suddenly changes. I realize this is dramatic, but now I have to conjure a picture of this fourplex, of the tenants, the walkway, and the yard. I have to sit down with my eyes closed and imagine this place into my memory. I have to create the scene.
This is what I see: Four apartments, two on the first floor and two on the second. The exterior is stark white stucco, and there is clean snow in the front yard. All four windows are framed by black shutters and have closed curtains. There is a parking lot just big enough for six cars. Just inside, in the shared hallway, there is an orange shag carpet. A gold and yellow hanging lamp dimly lights the entryway. The stairs to the second floor are on the left of the hall and there is an ironwork handrail. Directly across from the front entrance and down the hall is a back door with a red “EXIT” sign glowing over top of it. This door leads to a minuscule back yard that dips down into a steep, weed-filled ravine. Behind the ravine the woods rise up to the mountains toward Pike’s Peak.
I ask for details. My mother tells me that three tenants are clean and friendly. She tells me that the couple in the fourth apartment is loud and dirty, and there is a foul smell lingering in the hall outside of their door. When they move out they leave the place trashed, and my parents break their backs cleaning the apartment.
The whole endeavor is more than they can handle. Mom and Dad don’t have time to deal with the responsibilities of being landlords. They sell the building.
“I wonder if it is still there.” My mom ponders out loud.
I wonder, too. I wonder if I can go there now and see the shag carpet and meet the tenants. Can I go to them and shake their hands and cry a little and theatrically exclaim, “My parents built this apartment! This is part of my history!”
Perhaps they would say, “Oh yes! I remember that nice young couple with the newborn baby. They were so charming.”
Or would they ask me to leave and say they could care less who built the place? Would they say that it just doesn’t matter? Would there be new tenants who are younger than I am and who would look at me like I’m a crazy old fool?
Maybe the place doesn’t even exist anymore. Maybe there is nothing there but a dirty patch of snow.
Christine Green is a writer and personal assistant in New York. She hosts Words on the Verge, a monthly literary reading and salon in Brockport, NY.
by M. Justine Foster
I LOVE READING other peoples ‘old house’ experiences! It reminds me of the house that the parents and sister of my first husband lived in. It was in Lawrenceville, GA, now a bedroom community for Atlanta. Its main claim to fame was that it was still standing in 1969, after surviving Sherman's March to the sea. It was out in the countryside among the pines and on a red-dirt road. It was the first week of August.
As a California city-girl and new bride, it was there that I was introduced to many firsts.
First Georgian thunderstorm
First exposure to Georgia summer temperatures
First exposure to Georgia humidity
First trip across the country
First Southern Fried Chicken by Grandma Mitchell
First father-in-law, a kind gentle man who wept when we left.
First Bomb shelter - and it had a picture window!
First deep-fried cornbread, cooked in a cast-iron frying pan
First time bringing homemade wine home. Learned not to pack a plastic milk jug in my suitcase
First time in a truly large family.
My mother-in-law had seven siblings.
My father-in-law’s family had nine.
That so many cousins, aunts and Uncles came to see us was stunning, and, we all sat on the floor talking laughing, finding out about each other until past midnight. Meanwhile, hundreds of Fireflies flew around the centuries old Oak trees around the yard, and into the corral by the also very old barn.
The old house was torn down in the early 1970’s, and a lovely, modern house was built in its place. Though the same family lived there for 40 years more, it was never as magical to look back on. I will always be grateful for the spirit of the old house that still dwells in my soul.
I wonder if the Bomb Shelter still resides in the side of the hill with its picture window still intact. I never thought to ask.
M. Justine Foster is a native Californian, born in Santa Barbara, CA. A retired RN, she writes non-fiction Memiors and poetry. First published in the program for a conference on Love & Life, her poems were well received. Justine has poetry published in the 2014 Redwood Writers Anthology, WATER. Also a technical writer, she has developed and currently sells patterns for making quilted carrying bags of several sizes. Visit her online at: loveandstitchesdesigns.com.
A writer since childhood, she retired from her life’s work as an RN in 2009. Now she has begun to submit Memiors. Currently she is finishing a book combining Memiors & Poetry. She and her husband, David Dahlstrand, live their summers & falls in Mt. Morris, WI, and their winters and springs in Cotati, CA. (Sonoma County, CA, USA)
by David Brabec
MAJORS ARE THE first to try out. They know the routine of fielding and batting while managers jot down scores to draft a Little League team. They have uniforms, are older, throw hard, and have a lot of confidence. A new kid comes in a T-shirt and jeans. Hair covers his face allowing him to hide himself. He’s a little overweight because he’s left his friends in another town and probably spent the winter watching T.V. I imagine mom unpacking the mitt from a moving box and urging him to go out for the thing he’s always enjoyed and been good at wherever they’ve lived. But his fear of not looking good gives him a detached persona. While the local boys wear their All-Star jerseys from last year, he’s wearing a Jimi Hendrix T-Shirt.
“Jimi Hendrix? You like Hendrix?” I ask as the boys line up for the last drill, pitching from the mound.
“It's my Dad’s t-shirt.” Says the kid, black hair hanging over his face and no baseball cap.
He had tried to skip this last drill and go home but a coach asked him to come back and pitch from the mound. He slowly walked out to join the ones everyone knows can pitch because they’ve grown up in this league.
“Does your Dad listen to any of today's music?” I ask, as a lanky kid with crisp white pants winds up to throw.
“Only so he can complain about it,” he says.
I like this kid and Lanky is taking too long between pitches with his setting, breathing, and big windup.
“O.K. buddy,” I say, “I know it’s fun to pitch off the mound but we got guys waiting.”
Lanky turns and flips the ball into the bucket. He stays out to watch with his friends while the new kid takes the mound. Jimi Hendrix grabs a ball from the bucket.
He gives a half wind-up and tosses it toward home. The coach’s jot down a score. Lanky spits.
“Alright champ” I say, “put your foot against the rubber, take a big step toward the catcher, and whip it into his mitt. We’re not worried about accuracy, just give me something hard.” Jimi Hendrix blasts it five feet over the catcher’s head. The coaches erase their last score. Lanky doesn’t spit.
My days of building warriors are over. There’s no need to yell, to put them under pressure to perform in case they need to live in a foxhole. They just have to turn off the electrical input and peer pressure that builds from not burning energy working the fields or rising early to feed the animals. It’s a navigational tack, different from coaches and parents that raised me.
“Nice!” I say and flip another ball to him from the bucket, “give me another and bring it down a little…” Jimi Hendrix stands up tall on the mound, takes a big step, and blasts it into the catcher. All the coaches start erasing.
“Momma’s gonna want to take your picture” I say. For the first time he doesn’t rush off the field. He walks slowly off the mound and punches his mitt as he saunters toward the dugout. He’s getting that feeling of play back in him, a feeling he’s good enough, that he belongs.
David Brabec is a stay at home dad with three boys. His wife works nights. Visit him online at: threeboysandadad.blogspot.com.
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