A family vacation side trip:
I hadn’t been there in almost fifty years and as I got off the exit of Rte 95, I hoped I could show my wife and seventeen year old my Grandmother’s house in Providence. It was the one my Dad grew up in, the one where we lived until I was five, renting the downstairs apartment. It was memory to me, a distant one, but here it was, I drove to it like I’d been going there every day. Not quite a ghetto, but not much better, the house bordered a cemetery and the highway and was pretty much as I remembered it. The old shingles had been replaced by siding, the driveway still wasn’t paved and the old, ornate front doors were boarded over, it was pretty much what I remembered: crappy but home. Only; I’d forgotten the ball field across the street.
Did you ever forget something that was really important to you, something integral to your personality? Some of you might have, that’s why therapists exist, to help us unlock things that we’ve pushed to the back of our conscious, things that we get too busy to remember. I suspect, however, that most people know who they are all their lives and don’t have to go very far to remember what is important to them. I didn’t realize how much I’d forgotten about myself. My son requested a trip to see the Northeast and it turned out to be a therapy session that featured diamonds, fireworks and Boston accents. I went to show James Fenway Park, Boston, clam chowder, and Paul Revere’s house, I came home remembering my roots.
We’d spent a wonderful week in Boston, enjoying the fireworks on the Charles, a million Bostonians first opportunity to respond to the Boston Marathon bombings, we did the bus tours of Boston, ate like hungry tourists, and watched two ballgames at Boston’s baseball cathedral, Fenway Park. Teresa and James are great traveling companions, we are all willing to set out with a general plan and discard it on a whim, we are some of the most flexible tourists you’ll ever see. We rented an apartment near the ball park, getting around for the first five days without a rental car. At the ball yard, James keeps a pretty good scorecard while Teresa calls the pitches. This old catcher taught her well, she knows the game. We sat next to a retired Ivey League registrar on one side, a Dad with a gaggle of little girls on the other, everyone rooting for the Sox. People excited by the game, the Sox success and old Fenway itself. I’d seen my first game there, watching Mantle, Maris, and Ford lose to Earl Wilson, Dick Radatz and Dick Stuart’s Redsox, the retired registrar and I trading memories of the Sox teams of our youths.
Being a New England sports fan is something that you take for granted when you grow up there, everybody, and I mean everybody, is willing to discuss the plight of the Sox, who is playing goalie for the Bruins, or why the Celts have just made a trade. Sports is a part of New England society that is hard to explain, and I didn’t understand that until I moved away. No one, and I mean no one, was prepared to debate that merits of the National League’s best third baseman when I moved to Rochester, I needed to find other things to talk about. So, I did. But being back in Fenway, I remembered and, as I remembered, my son got it, without me explaining a thing. We’d been to Tampa Bay baseball games, one even a few weeks ago, but James picked up on the Boston passion for sports within hours; he knew this was different.
How had I forgotten that baseball was such a part of me? We’re basketball fans together, James and I holding Orlando Magic season tickets, I would describe us as semi-passionate fans. I’d played baseball until I was over forty and I’d coached and umpired Little League, but it wasn’t the same. It was an attempt to re-capture the past, and only an attempt. Baseball was something we watched now and then, something to nap in front of. That part of my life was over. Then, before we headed home, we rented a car and took a drive down to Pawtucket and Providence. I showed them my old Little League fields at Slater Park, the fields at Dagget Park where we hit doomed foul balls into a swamp and then we set out for my Grandmother’s house.
The ball field across the street, the one where I ran the empty bases every day, how could I have forgotten? One afternoon, while my Dad was working, a group of uniformed guys showed up on my field to play softball. I couldn’t have been more than 4 and I marched out of the house, announced to the men that this was my field and they had better let me play. And… they did. I played right field (next to a guy) and I hit two home runs… Ground balls to second that got through, hit so wickedly that no grown man could field them, around the bases I ran: home field advantage. My dad, when he got home, was very proud of me, my Mother more concerned about the bruise on my head from walking into an on deck batter’s swing. I was a ball player.
How could I have forgotten?
Baseball was my birthright and I am lucky to have it back in my life. More importantly, I reconnected with who I am, a Rhode Island Yankee living in a foreign land. It’s a nice land where I’ve built a nice life, and, like my Grandfather and Father before me, I remember I’m a baseball fan. My son is too and I couldn’t be happier. There’s a game on now, we’re all going to watch it together.
Besides remembering baseball, the trip brought back a flood of happy memories: of a Father who worked hard to give his family a better life, memories of a part of the country that I will always be a part of, reminders that I had a loving and happy childhood. I don’t know if I will ever experience a week like this last one, or if I will ever return to my old home again. I hope that the memories from this trip stay with me and I know that my son understands his heritage a little better.
Baseball after all, is more than a game. A famous ballplayer I got to meet, Jim Bouton, once said, ““A ballplayer spends a good piece of his life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”
It turns out, it never lets go.