Thursday, May 5, 2011


Step into the Garden

. . . those you choose

You have not chosen me. I have chosen you. -- Jesus

“I have chosen you.”

Recess. East Lake Grammar School. That’s what they called it then. They call it “Elementary School” now. Same thing. I think I like “grammar” better. Sounds more like school. In any case, it’s a place where you learn to read and write and do arithmetic, and make friends. But the best part of it all . . . is Recess!

Fifth grade recess. Softball in the recess yard. Each day we chose up sides. Somebody would say, “Ok, Charlie, you be the captain. You and Jimmy choose between the rest of us.” And so it would go until all of us were chosen, and we had two teams who played against each other. In my whole life at East Lake Grammar School, I can’t remember a single time when I was chosen first. It was always last, or near the “last.” I guess I was not a really good baseball player.

Not like Bobby Hightower, who always pitched. Or Jimmy Fisher who always played first base. Or Charlie McLendon, who always played second base.

As usual, I was the last to bat. Or near the last. I couldn’t hit a ball very well either. Now don’t get the wrong idea. I wasn’t a total klutz. I could play football. And I could fight. I could beat up every boy in my class except Melvin Sorrow and Charlie McClendon. So nobody messed with me much. But baseball intimidated me. The ball intimidated me. I think I was afraid of it – even a softball. So on that day, when Bobby Hightower pitched the ball, I ducked.

Strike one.

Jimmy Dalton was the ump. He made a good ump. Big fish eyes with heavy jowls for cheeks. He could see everything. The ball was over the plate, or in our case a large rock, which served as home plate. Everybody expected it. I was an easy out. That’s why I was always chosen last. Or near the last.

Bobby Hightower grinned. Or smiled. He thought it was funny. The ball arced from his hand again and I swung with all my might.

Strike two.

“Let’s go, let’s go! Easy out! Easy out!” Charlie McLendon screamed from second base.

My teammates sighed. I heard George Walker mumble, “Morris would be the batter on the third out! Sheesh! We’ll lose.” It was hard to hold back the tears. Damn, I hated this game!

Bobby wound up the third time and the ball came sailing toward me.

I closed my eyes.

The bat swung for the last time, again will all my might. Miraculously, there was a loud “pop,” as the ball hit the bat. When you’re ten years old, the ball “pops,” it never “cracks,” like in the big leagues. I opened my eyes to see it sailing over Bobby Hightower’s head, and then over Charlie McLendon’s head at second base. It hit the ground behind second base and in front of Carlton Wilder, the centerfielder. Carlton wasn’t that good of a player either. That’s why he was an outfielder. So by the time Charlie ran to pick up the ball and throw it to Jimmy Fisher, I had already arrived at the rock we used for first base.

Jimmy caught Charlie’s peg in his Wilson glove and turned to tag me out. Too late. I had already tagged the rock and was on my way to the second base rock, hot, angry tears streaming down my cheeks. Jimmy threw the ball to Charlie which sailed wide. Charlie had to run for it. I had run past second base and was on my way to the third base rock. I was NOT going to stop!

Charlie threw the ball to Bobby Hightower who stood between third base and home, holding the ball in his right hand and grinning his stupid grin. Bobby liked to dye his hair with peroxide. Piss ant! I lowered my shoulder and plowed into him.

Bobby went flying. And so did the ball. They separated. Bobby went one way. The ball went the other. I stumbled across the home plate (rock) to the cheers of my teammates. Home run! Even Melvin Sorrow was cheering. (Melvin was the kid whose mother always put a marichino cherry inside his apple each day.)

Back slapping, pile-on, yelling and screaming. Recess bell rang. You could hear it for two blocks. Game over. The Home run had won the game! Tears had turned from anger to joy.

And therein is the story of my life. I’ve never been able to hit life’s ball that well. But I’ve learned that no matter how late you are chosen, or how many strikes against you, close your eyes and swing the bat anyway. You may hit a Home Run.

I was never chosen last again.

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