Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Morning Song

Mister Mac spent the evening in the Meadville Medical Center at Tim’s bedside. Mrs. McIntyre, Aunt Marguerite, and I joined him the next morning. “Tim had a quiet night,” Mac told us.

How’d you sleep, love? I brought your razor,” Mrs. Mac told him, brushing his cheek.

Decent enough. They brought me a cot. I’ve spent worse.”

We retreated to a peaceful room reserved for families of folks gravely ill. Paintings of farmsteads and sunny meadows were hung on the wall and lit by their own quiet little lights. Bibles and books of comforting verse rested on the polished cherry tabletops.

I just saw the doc. They’re moving him up to ‘Guarded.’ Maybe even up to ‘Stable’ by tonight or tomorrow. Swelling’s down.”

He’s doing better then?” said Mrs. Mac, bright with relief.

Heard me snoring in the night. Guess that’s doing better.” And we laughed. Mister Mac beamed, an expression I’d never seen before.
I felt important signing for Tim as requested, but soon we were all speaking slowly. For . . . he could hear us, to his great satisfaction. 

Yhou hall . . . sound . . . lhoud.” And we laughed again.

Though he was wrapped in traction, Tim seemed pretty lively, if pale. He could move only his eyes and they were regaining their sparkle. He asked about the game. Yes, we won.

We play the Eagles again next game,” said Mac, leaning on the bed’s footboard. “Bearcat’s leaving for Montana . . . big family wedding in Glacier. So we need y’ to suit up by Friday.” Mrs. Mac jabbed her husband.

In the dugout, maybe, not on the field, son.” Her tone sounded like a mother just then, not a teacher in front of her class.

I would have given a dollar to hear two conversations that summer of 1992.

The first, the exchange between Mister Mac and Tim when both awoke the morning after the accident. I would probe the matter and gently prod Tim into revealing its content. A perfect eavesdropping opportunity evaded me. In my mind’s ear, though, I cooked up all manner of possibilities. The second conversation would take some planning: I wanted to be there within earshot when the McIntyres told Tim he’d been adopted.

How would they go about it? Who would speak first? Would it take Tim by surprise or had he a clue? His dream of a family coming true. His dream of someone there in the doorway waiting when he came home. Would adoption be such a shock he couldn’t trust his new ear?

It appeared Little League Baseball for “Hawkeye,” “Sidewinder”––or––“Halfway” Hathaway was over in 1992, at least. Good news, though, he seemed to have recovered seventy percent hearing in his left ear. The attending physician thought he was a good candidate for a transplant in the right ear. “Had this boy had some parental attention years ago, he might have been spared all this.” 

The specialists and auditory techs called him, “a case you remember. An operation looks promising. Surgeons from the Cleveland Clinic are volunteering to do it or assist.”

Something they take from a dead guy,” Tim signed of the procedure. “That thing that looks like seashell? They take yours out and stick his in.”

During the week to come, Tim volunteered what happened as he recalled the night of his accident and the days that followed. “Yhou know what?” he asked. “Last night, I woke hup afraid I might lose my hearing again. That something would go haywire hand shut it off. It would be so bad. I try not to think hof hit.”

Yeah, but they know what ails you now. So they could fix it––your other ear too.”

So . . . no worry?”

Right. Think about all you can do from here on out.” 
Ummm.” He nodded with his whole chest and shoulders, careful not to jar the brace he wore to keep things rigid. “You cannot believe how different life his.” 

Then he signed: “When I was in the hospital, the first bird I heard was a crow. Then a blue jay. And later that morning, a robin, right outside my window––the nurse told me what it was. I was still locked down in bed or I would have got up to have a look. 

The nurse said: ‘There is the robin’s morning song, Timbo. He heard you were here and came by . . . just to say hello, old friend––hello and welcome to my world.’ And do you know what?”

The nurse started to cry. And he was a guy. A bald-headed black guy. I will never forget that, for sure.” 

I smiled. “Things are just beginning for you . . . Timbo.”

I could say such safely without tipping any hint of what lay ahead for my friend, Tim Hathaway. Perhaps he’d become Timothy McIntyre in the weeks ahead. But to me and likely to the Panthers, he’ll always be, foremost, Tim “Halfway” Hathaway.

The night we played the Eagles, Tim appeared on the field in his neck brace and uniform, including the pants he lost on his way to first base in practice. Several of the girls from school crowded around and crowed how great he could hear them now. Naming Tim “a miracle from our Lord,” Mary Ann Holzer introduced him to her Mennonite parents, putting in a rare appearance on Summers Run Field. But, unfortunately, they would be disappointed. No game was played.

The Eagles were poised, focused on revenge. Loser of this contest would be eliminated from the playoffs. But we were confident, until Nathe had us huddle in the dugout. Mister Mac stood leaning in the doorway. Uncharacteristic for him as he usually paced around and about, taking care of the lineup, checking the field, and alerting the umpires to Tim’s condition. 

Nathe knelt on one knee across from us where he could look each Panther in the eye. He was rolling a baseball in his hand, the one with the missing thumb, long before he spoke. He had our attention. Finally he looked up.

Boys, Trent Smythe will not be with us tonight. His little sister has been missing for more than a day now. You likely haven’t heard, but they found her body this afternoon in an old refrigerator. Trent won’t be with us tonight.” We knew we’d never forget this moment.

The Eagles want us to forfeit so they’ll have a break. There’s a regulation we have to have nine men on the field. We’re one shy.”

Sir, couldn’t we borrow one from Worthe Drug or Longmeier Roofing?” I asked, looking toward Mister Mac who kept track of these matters and the rules. “They’ve got some players hanging around.” Such substitutions had been allowed before in regular play: I filled in once when a team from Cochranton ran short because of an injury, and I helped them finish their game.

“‘Fraid not, Claude,” said Mister Mac. “I asked. The Eagles said they’d protest, since it’s not our regular roster and this is a playoff game.”

There we left it. No pizza at The Shack after the game. None of Uncle Albert’s homemade ice cream on the porch at Summers Run Farm. We would next gather for a funeral to bring the final curtain down” on what the Tribune sportswriter called, an unusually bittersweet season. The star that shone over the Pickett Township Panthers winked out last night, the team losing by forfeiture to the Meadville Eagles. In the past few weeks, strangers––not just parents and neighbors––started driving out to the legendary Summers Run Field for a nostalgic Little League Baseball experience. 

Once there, they witnessed play by a scrappy bunch of farm kids and took them to their hearts. Beautifully resurrected from the full-size diamond many old-timers of the area remember, the scaled-down field witnessed some of the purest and best Little League play this writer can recall during his years following local teams. . . .”

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Country Craftsmanship

Complex Wooden beam structure with arch painted red

Here's a stand-in for the covered bridge spanning Summers Run. Principal construction element shown here is the Burr Arch, extending the length of the structure. Quite a feat and wooden to boot. Found at Twin Bridges, central Pennsylvania.

Blond-headed boy fly fishing below covered bridge

And here's the cover painting for Summers Run: An American Boyhood as rendered by Montana artist Brent Cotton. It graced the first of the Summers Run Series.

CHAPTER 25, "I Hear Yhou"

Hoyt Wilhelm, Joe and Phil Niekro, Tom Candiotti were my patterns, models, players to study and copy. When they played in the majors, they were known for their knuckleballs. I wanted some day to throw one as well.

My Granddad C. J. had schooled me in this aspect of the game. His friend, J. J. “Smoke” Leffingwell, pitched in the minor leagues and twice nearly made it to the “show.” “Smoke” would come by both the Jarrett house in Texas and the youth baseball practices and offer his advice to us who aspired toward pitching. 

Well,” said “Smoke” of the knuckleball: “It’s not a common pitch, but the boy has quite a large hand––bigger than most. Good control, excellent mechanics. I’d say he should try it. This is a league where y’ try things and learn.”

You should try it, lad,” said C. J. “If y’ get good with it, well, maybe there’s a college career with the thing, maybe even a shot at the majors. Knuckleballers have a long career because it doesn’t wear your arm down.”

I took the mound for my third inning and looked toward the Kinkades and my maternal grandparents watching me. Thus far, I had held the hard-hitting Eagles scoreless. The knuckler had them buffaloed for now. Granddad C. J. pumped a vigorous thumbs up when I put the side out, one-two-three.

Fourth inning and down they went again on a single, a double play, and a strikeout. Now it was our turn at the plate. Jules Alphonse donned his batting helmet and told us: “I think the Eagles are gettin’ plucked tonight. I see tail feathers falling all over the place.”

Our bats woke up in the fourth inning and we scored three runs. Could it be? A little country mouse scampering past the “Screaming Eagles” as they called themselves? Fifth inning and my first sign of trouble.

After the first Eagle grounded out, the second reached first on an error, and then I gave up a blooper single that fell into short left field. Mister Mac came to the mound and told me and Carmine: “Now, we’re in good shape here. Claude, if you feel comfortable throwing the heater you’ve been working on, this might be the place.”

Up came their number three batter and then the cleanup man, the very ones who stared at us insolently during warm ups. I threw the heater––to their surprise––and got ahead in the count on both. Then a combination of the knuckler, a couple sinkers, and then another fastball, and they both whiffed. This time my gramps stood and pumped both thumbs up, danced a little jig, and applauded. 

No question he and I belonged to each other. We were of the knuckleball fraternity.

We faced a new pitcher in the fifth but we stuck to the fundamentals learned in the batting barn and Nathe’s instructional version of “move up.” We added two more runs and were threatening with a third when it happened.

I stood on second base with a double. Tim’s job was to bunt me over to third. He laid down his trademark beautiful drag bunt along the first base side and tore down the line to beat it out. It became one of those times in life when we humans just stand in wonder.

In the course of his furious flight toward first base, Tim’s helmet came ajar and whether he knocked it away or it bounced loose of its own accord, no one can be sure. I didn’t see Tim fall.

Folks later described the pitcher’s throw to first as a rocket and how they cringed when they saw the ball fly skyward from its contact with the back of Tim’s skull. When I turned at third to see where the play now stood, I found Tim in a heap on the first base bag.

Mister Mac waved me to come with him and we tore across the mound. The umpire, correctly, grabbed me and shouted, “All players back, all players stand back!”

This kid’s deaf,” barked Mac, retrieving me, “and he’s our signer.”

All right, all right. Everyone else, stay back. Give us some room here.”

By the time Mac, Nathe, and I knelt by Tim’s side, he had rolled off the bag and was looking straight into the sky.

He looked so gone.

I bit my lip for I felt the tears welling. Was I looking into the sightless eyes of my friend? I thrust my hands directly in front of his face and signed and repeated what Nathe and Mac told me: “Lie still. Lie very still. Do not move.” I wiped my tears for Tim’s face was now a blur.

He had not stirred.

I took hold of Tim’s jaw as Mister Mac directed so he wouldn’t turn left or right, while my Grandmother Ronnie ran up and stood over us and signed away. Mac told her to sign for Tim to remain still. Nathe left to get the first aid kit, ice, and blankets. Tim looked listless.

He began to fade.

My grandmother signed away. Could he even see her? She bent over him and I felt her hair brush mine as she signed: “Do not move your head.” Then she asked me, “Does he read lips, Claude?”

Yes,” I told her, “a bit.” I looked into those dark eyes, urging them silently to not go sightless. Ronnie knelt even closer to where Tim could see only three faces I’m sure: hers, mine in the middle, and Mac’s. Tim’s gaze seemed to narrow, and I wondered if he were slipping away from us now with no way to slow the slide.

Then I heard Mister Mac say: “Jack! Good! Move back, Claude. We got an EMT here.” I eased away from Tim and released his jaw. Then I saw that gaze squint, hinting an approaching grin, the grin I now knew so well. Jack, the emergency tech, had crawled to where he could check Tim’s pulse. Tim did as he was told, lying still as death. But it was the eyes.

No longer sightless, no longer listless. His gaze, moving from my grandmother, to me, finally resting on Mac standing behind the EMT and looking down. The grin broadened into a full-on smile. Tim raised his arm and pointed toward his coach and said, “I . . . hear . . . yhou.”

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Representing Summers Run

Shady and dappled shallow flowing stream

The inviting riffles of Summers Run. 

Its waters reach back into the basement of time and have slaked the thirst of many who have lived or journeyed along its banks. 

Represented here by Lick Creek, central Pennsylvania. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Reading Boy

Boy reading book with pirate ship background

From the creative genius of N. C. Wyeth, American artist and popular illustrator of the 20th century, active until 1945 when he perished in tragic car-train accident. He took up residence at Chadds Ford in southeastern Pennsylvania and established the area as the home ground for son Andrew and grandson Jamie––a patrimony of great importance to American art today.

We here think this wonderful illustration depicting soaring imagination is a very fitting symbol. A symbol for this blog's interest in encouraging boys, the reluctant readers in most households, to learn the wonders of good and classic books. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

House on the Summers Run Farm

white farmhouse with lawn and trees

One of the settings for today's "Feel Good" novel, The Boys of Summers Run. Watch for others featured in this blog.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Claude Kinkade is your narrator of The Boys of Summers Run

Smiling blond teen portrait

Claude tells his story from a two-pronged narrative, describing the action at the time and then applying a 20-year perspective. His job description includes: Farm-boy-in-training, pitcher and right fielder for the Pickett Township Panthers, and signer for his deaf friend and the book's orphan, Tim.