Was sitting with my mom yesterday at the old ash table at which she has been sipping tea for 30 years, and she got to telling me a story, so come with me, brothers and sisters, as we walk with my mom, aged 11, through the streets of the Borough of Queens, in the City of New York, on the way to see the Springfield Greys play baseball, in the summer of 1933.
She is walking with her dad. He is a slight man with a slight mustache and a slight smile, which he wears almost all the time. It is Thursday evening. The Greys play every Thursday evening at the Sherwood Oval, which sounds like an impressive park, but only recently have wooden benches been installed for the fans to sit on. My mom says usually there were 30 or 40 fans and a hat was passed to pay the players. Behind third base and along left field is a railroad embankment. People sit on the embankment to avoid dropping nickels in the hat. When a train approaches, the announcer calls time and tells the fans on the embankment to get off, which they do, and the train rattles past, and they scramble up again, and the game resumes.
My grandfather buys frankfurters for himself and his oldest daughter. They love baseball. My aunt and my grandmother never go to see the Greys. My mother loves the time alone with her father. On Thursdays he comes home from work and the family eats dinner and then he and my mom walk from Laurelton, once wild with laurel trees, to Springfield Gardens, once a vast sprawl of farms. They walk past shops and houses and gardens and the train station and churches and temples and stables. At the Oval they like to sit on the first-base side. You can see the players best when they sprint up the line toward first.
The Greys play the Bushwicks, from Brooklyn, and the Bay Parkways, also from Brooklyn, and other teams from around the city, and occasionally they play teams from elsewhere barnstorming through Queens, such as the Crawfords from Pittsburgh and the Homestead Grays, also from Pittsburgh, or the bearded House of David team from Michigan. My mom remembers a pitcher who was terrific, and she remembers specific bunts and home runs, although not who hit them, or what the score was, or if they mattered, particularly. What mattered was that she was sitting with her dad. He was smoking his Camel cigarettes and smiling, and they ate their frankfurters and talked about how bunts were gentle and home runs were violent. They talked about how a tiny bunt was better than a tremendous out. You could tell that the end of the game was approaching because the light began to fail. Men put their jackets back on, and children put on sweaters that their moms had made them carry just for this purpose. When the game ended, everyone applauded and the players waved as they ran off the field and my mom and her dad walked home to Laurelton through the gathering dark. She finishes her story and sips her tea and says, I love baseball, and I know exactly what she means, which is not baseball as much as it is sitting with her dad, and staring up at the little jaunty canoe of a mustache on his lip, and worshipping him with all her heart and soul. They never ever left a game early, she says, even if the score was lopsided, or the sky brooded with rain, or it was awesomely hot. Leave early, and miss a moment alone with her dad?
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