When was the last time you were relaxing and dozing in the swing under the big old maple tree and you gazed out across the front yard and thought you witnessed a battalion of youngsters in competition? No doubt the thud of a base hit and the exclamation of, “I got it” filled the thick summer humidity. Reality sets in harshly with, “Well that’s the way it used to be right here where I sit.” However, vegetation has covered the once proud, magnificent community ball stadium.
Neighbor, no one has to show you a photograph of the layout as you can decipher each inch of a childhood memorial. Remember the hanging limbs and the dug out pitcher’s mound? Now relive the thorny bushes and shrubs you periodically tripped over escaping the tag? Slowly massage the inside of your arm as you recall the bark on the tree seemed to scrape off the hide of your arm when you rounded second trying to hold your balance using the tree for support. Your memory bank allows the continued growth of pleasant and trying times of your childhood with friends and neighbors.
Claire Thompson lived next door to us and she was a wrong-armed batter that always hit (tordge, which is Southernese for toward) left field. A real good ball player (for a girl). Three houses up the road were June and Nancy Leek and they too were good. June would run over you if you got in her base path and laugh at you, while you were bleeding to death. Paul and Lynn lived down the road at the bottom of the hill and Frank McCalla stayed ‘per nigh’ a mile past Paul and Lynn. Chippy and Jan bedded up the road.
Arvis, Phil and Emerson trekked from distant Barretville and had to cut across the dusty cotton fields or ride bicycles as they got older. Sessum, Don and Wayne Jameson, Tommy Wylie and Jimmy Ferguson had bicycles. Paul House would ride a mule, a horse or a puddle jumper “borrowed” from his older brother, Buck. My younger sister, Jo, was feisty, and loved her ball. She had many a scrape and scratch, but hung tough with encouragement from Momma. The girls were called “Tomboys” back then, but I think that name has changed lately!
Friends, very seldom did we actually have nine on a team, but we got close. Hey, just play deep and cut across. The first base tree was right beside the road which consisted of sand, mixed with big red gravel, a few white small rocks and black tar squirted over the top of the mixture. In the hot summer, the ball would soak up the tar and we’d try to throw it, not knowing if it would stick to our fingers, or bounce toward Little Texas or Idaville. Momma made us play “sissy” softball when the girls whined to play, especially with the limited space.
We had to be careful not to knock out the window lights, but Momma sat in her favorite chair on the sagging wooden porch in front of the double windows to protect the glass. But, the bedroom window was guarded with two, one by sixes, stood up on the ends. Ain’t rednecks smart? Continuously refereeing, Momma would shade her eyes with her right hand, flag the ball down with her left hand or stomp it like two-step dancing with a mad water moccasin. But, don’t break the glass or chip the window sill.
Our softballs were just that...soft…as the meringue on a lemon ice-box pie. But when the balls got mushy, we’d speed to Mr. Ben’s store. Mr. Harber, Mr. T. D. Wylie or Mr. Leon would wrap them with sea grass string and tightly cover with black friction tape. The ball would be harder than an ex-mother in law’s heart. The bats were “hand-me downs” from older boys with broken handles, filled with tacks and small nails, then wrapped with the sticky black friction tape. But, we solved that problem with a few handfuls of dirt viciously rubbed on the handle. This worked every time.
Just “pore” country kids making memories and having a ball of a time…GLORY!
Otis Griffin is the author of the book “Southern Raisin.” He was born in Charleston, Tenn., and attended Rosemark Grammar School and Bolton High School.