Thursday, December 6, 2012

"An Errant Throw," Calloway Burns

An Errant Throw

Calloway Burns

Spring should be a time of rebirth, of April showers, of running to baseball practice with a bat slung over your shoulder and cleat shoestrings skipping along the asphalt. Eager to dig into the comfort of the beautiful game.This day lost its joy. This day the pitcher threw a wild pitch. It emptied itself of its creation. Contradicting itself by being both wonderfully sunny and dreadfully overcast. The grass, a patchwork of weeds and Bermuda, dances in newfound light, but my memories are shadowed by dark storm clouds—eager to remind me that the images in my head trigger torment.

That day there would be no baseball. There would be no chewing and spitting seeds or digging my toe into the batter’s box. The gnats would be free to fly without the fear of being slapped away by an outfielder. 

I pitter throughout the house following my older siblings as we search for our mom. Bryant had just picked up Anna and me from school. The normal routine of scurrying into Anna’s school to cut short her chirping with friends and then avoiding the classmates screaming, “Awww!” This is what happens when you’re seven and you’re the youngest by nine years. We escape to the van and the classic rock emanating from the radio. Usually we head home and we are safe. Usually a spring day follows its routine. Instead I find myself noticing the absence of the smell of onions being sautéed for dinner and the lack of the gentle lick of the family terrier, Eton, as I arrive home that day.

Beat. Nothing upstairs. The laundry room is eerily quiet. We turn our attention toward our father’s office.

His name was, is, Stanley Theodore Burns. He had that granola edge or rebel streak in him. From birth he was supposed to be a star wide receiver or safety for his Kingsport high school, he chose running instead. Just running. We used to run together. I nipped at his heels as he trotted around the block a couple of times. He would then shed me to run his marathon. Stanley, or Stan, I guess, was supposed to be an engineer or a doctor. Stan’s father wanted Stan to be the perfect cast of his father’s plaster mold. Since he was the first born, that was how it should have been. Instead he wrote. He wrote epics of bank fraud and children’s books detailing a bear’s life. For one more jab at his father’s meddling, he wore Birkenstocks.

Chewing on the leather ties in our gloves. Something that could so easily be crude and unhealthy carries immense nostalgia at the same time. The little knots slowly come undone—threatening to let a ball slip through the leather basket. Not at any predictable pace, but just at the exact time when there is a lull in the game. When the batter can’t squeeze his helmet on or the pitcher can’t find the strike zone, there are those leather straps. An odd yet comforting taste. An odd yet comforting memory.

Beat. Stan’s office was built from a garage. He had given me the little loft area so I could have my own play office and still be with him while we writes. He writes of banking improprieties whilst I doodle on paper titled “The Calloway Group.” They say we are most alike of all of my siblings.

Beat. We found the door to his office open. Inside was an image I could draw, paint, or write perfectly as if it were occurring this moment. My mother was hunched over the desk with the old corded phone to her ear. Eton at her feet anxiously looking up at his caretaker. Her tears grasping her cheek unnerved us the most. We had never seen our mother cry except for her tears of laughter.

Beat. My brother holds me on his lap in the front hall. It could not have been comfortable yet the memory is my most comforting. Our father was dead.

There is something about the game that relaxes the mental muscles. Looking up at the brim of your hat and seeing the graveyard of gnats who have the audacity to invade the sanctity of your vision. You stand there listening to the chirps of infielders and parents chattering up the batter or whatnot. The temptation just to plop down and sit desperately tries to reach out and take over. Surely in coach pitch they cannot hit into the outfield. This is baseball though.  With all of the stats that are applicable—OPS, WHIP, or ERA—there is an incredible amount of chance, of the unlikely.  It is comforting in that manner.  You know that no matter how many times you tap the plate, twist your toe in the dirt, or spit your seed, there is no sure thing. Baseball is life. The objective is to go home.

I desperately wanted to go home. I desperately wanted to skip onto the field behind the local high school and work back into that routine. There was an art to that routine. I needed something beautiful, something to shine in this murky world.  Something as artistic as a shortstop popping into his stance to snatch a ground ball. Something like the sound of the ball smacking the mitt.

It seems like the clock during those weeks should have had more hours. Should have made it all come together into one day. At least, that is how it seems.

Beat. We are all a cohesive family. My grandfather forgets his woes about a son who never followed the predetermined path. The cousins we fell out of touch with appear. Family friends from across the pond fill pews. Feuds have been forgotten and we return to our elemental, caring relationships. A collection of those who have lost that which is dear sits silently in the anteroom. The only flutter is the image of the little redheaded toddler of a cousin pouring his tears into the slightly compressed seat of the old church chair.

Beat. I wedge comfortably among my mother and sister in the dark, gothic sanctuary listening raptly to Bryant’s stories of my father. Those whom I missed. The church’s historical stained glass provides an element of monstrous oversight. A bulwark of peace and tradition nestled in the streets of Baltimore.

Throughout the April showers we still play, our feet desperately seeking grip in the muddy infield. The batter’s leg splays out after swinging, his body falling to the ground embracing the soft, wet ground. He rises laughing. This is why we play. We play for the rush provided by sliding in the soggy outfield as the ball splashes toward us. We play for the surge that smacking a pitch provides and for the regret as we find the fielder tossing the ball to the base with ease and elegance. There is no clock. The game may take the course it desires. This is how it has been—a bulwark of peace and timeless tradition nestled in a sea of green.

We stand in the spring heat of the Greenville sun. This is where his family began. The walls seem to be straining to hold local family in. I have the memory of wandering the cemetery with him. We walked, my hand tugging at his trouser leg, as we moved further and further towards the end of the cemetery. We were going back to the grave of my namesake. This was no battlefield with soldiers’ cries seeping out of the ground but there seemed to be that wispy fog that people always talk about. We passed a great uncle, another who killed himself on his son’s grave. With each grave my father recounted the gothic southern tales of its resident. This day though I walk alone. I trace the same steps. This day though his story is among those that I tell. There is no longer the need to doodle on the pages he gave me as he wrote. Today I read what he wrote. I hear his stories.

When spring comes again, there is still that rebirth. It always begins with the hopes of baseball. The crotchety old manager hoping to make a dream out of nothing. The team pulling together to stun the powerhouse. No matter the prospects my father always had hope for the rebirth of something special. He always believed. He always wrote of this. He wrote of the man who always failed but constantly tried to do something spectacular. There was no room for mediocrity. His family begins at Bethuel Chapel but ours begins here. With hope. With spring.

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