Thursday, January 10, 2008

Talkin' Baseball :: A Tribute to My Grandmother

My grandmother passed away from cancer this Tuesday in the early hours. I've been struggling with it. She was my hero. I owe so much of who I am and who I try to be to her influence in my life.

I wrote this story,
Talkin' Baseball, about 8 years ago. It's a creative non-fiction piece that might help you understand how love doesn't always show itself in hugs and hearts. Sometimes it's in the determination to maintain hope when all seems hopeless.

I don't normally use this blog for editorial pieces, so please forgive. But those of you who read often surely understand.

Talkin' Baseball

I used to spend Friday nights at Grandma's house. Mom would drop me off at six o'clock and she and Dad would head off to their bowling league. Grandma would always have the best dinners: breaded pork chops, pot roast, or lasagna. None of it came from a can or a box like the stuff Mom made. Grandma would ask me about school and I would tell her whatever I was learning: cursive, multiplication tables, or how George Washington Carver invented peanut butter.

After dinner, she would do the dishes, grab a Pabst from the fridge and we'd head out to the living room to watch the Tiger's game. One evening, I told her how Derrick Spivey split his jeans trying to show me a kick he learned in Karate lessons. She told me about her father—about how he worked on the first Model T to come off the line and how he knew Henry Ford personally.

After another Pabst, I told her how Antonius Jones got caught bringing dirty magazines to school. She told me how her mother used to order her one new set of clothes from the Sears & Roebuck catalog every school year, and that she still saves bacon grease in Folgers cans because during The Depression they couldn't afford butter and had to use the grease instead.

I never knew my grandfather. I've seen only one picture of him; it was in a wrinkled brown paper bag in the back of the attic, next to a box of wire hangers and an old wooden rocking horse with the paint faded. Although the picture was only from the chest up, he looked like a short man—maybe five-six. He had a full head of thin hair that parted in the middle and curled at his ears. A low brow shaded his eyes and his moustache was full and light.

Grandma sat at the end of the pink corduroy couch, dragging on a non-filter Pall Mall. She exhaled smoke through her nose and it hung at eye level. No swirls. No rising. Just hanging. The mahogany end table on her left was collecting empty Pabst cans. Every twenty minutes another would join the group; you could set your watch to it.

After cracking open her eighth red, white, and blue can with her shakybone fingers, she pulled deeply from her Pall Mall and told me, Never ever hit a girl, no matter what she does. I asked her if it was okay if the girl hit me first. She said, No, not even then. Guys are stronger than girls and sometimes they don't think they're hitting a girl very hard, but they are. She poured back a swallow or two. She said I should never hit a girl for anything: not for punching me first, not for calling me names, not for making me frustrated, not for dropping one of the only plates left in the cupboard, not for forgetting to pick up the sugar even though it was on the list because, God Damn it, how am I supposed to drink my coffee without sugar, not for forgetting to patch the hole in the elbow of his shirt because two of the kids were sick with the chicken pox and I didn't even get any sleep myself the night before, and not because I just asked why you were home so late because I was worried, that's all. I swear.

I could see her eyes start to water and a tear slip into the creases that defined her face. I told her I had to go to the bathroom, hoping that it would stop things. And she asked if I could bring her another Pabst from the fridge when I came back.

When I returned from the bathroom, pulling my feet through the dry brown carpet, with a cold Pabst in hand, I asked her to tell me about the 1968 Tigers team and her favorite player, Denny McClain. You know, she said, he was the only player to ever win thirty games in one season; these pitchers today don't stay in the game long enough see that kind of success. She told me about the others: Mickey Lolich, Norm Cash, and Al Kaline. Longer gaps of silence grew between the names until she finally nodded off around Willie Horton or Bill Freehan.

I leaned her down on that pink corduroy couch, resting her head on one of the matching pillows, and got a brown wool blanket from the linen closet. Letting her cigarette burn out in the ashtray, I took all the empty cans back to the kitchen and put them into the case.

I climbed on the other couch and went through the 1984 Tigers—my Tigers—in my head. Starting with the outfield: Kirk Gibson, Chet Lemon, and Larry Herndon. Then the infield: Darrell Evans, "Sweet" Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell….


--Deb said...

Now I'm teary--wonderfully evocative piece. I'm so sorry for your loss.

Patricia Singleton said...

Geoff, you are in my prayers. Grandmothers can be great, wonderful influences in our lives. I had a special one myself. I hope some day that my grandchildren will think that of me. My grandmother gave me the values that make me so different from my brother and sister and the way we look at the world around us.

Chip said...

Geoff, I knew that your grandmother was sick, I am sorry to hear that she passed this week. I know what she meant to you and how hard times like these are. I had a grandfather that played an important role in my life, and even though he passed away several years ago now, he still has an impact on my day to day life.

Vitor - The Fractal Forest said...


What a beautiful piece. So much love comes through it.