It was an electric night, early summer, hazy heat in the sky already. My grandparents were in town for my first all-solo piano recital and my birthday, (and probably some things that had nothing to do with me, too, things that were far from my very me-centric mind.) I was eight, almost nine. My parents took us all to a Sioux City Explorers game.
The Explorers were a minor league team and this was only their second season and probably, they were not very good. I don’t remember. What I do remember is that my grandpa Marvin sat next to me, inning by inning, and described the intricacies of the game. How many balls make a walk. What an RBI is. Fastballs, curveballs, sliders, how they were different and why it mattered. Things I never knew I cared about until he told them to me as the beer-and-hot-dog haze hung around us and the organ drawled from the PA system overhead, sounding to me like a circus.
Around the fifth inning, the skies lit up, dazzling us with lightning and thunder rolled us from our seats. We scattered to our cars. The game was over in a literal flash, but that night began a decade’s long love of baseball for me. I followed the Explorers through years of losing seasons, breaking my heart over and over, though I still came back each year. Then I added the Cubs, for more suffering. Grandpa was a Cardinals fan, and we sustained a friendly rivalry. I learned the rules of keeping score, and made myself score cards. I became obsessed with Ila Borders, a pitcher who played for a different team in the same league as the Explorers. I wanted desperately to meet her. Her! In the “novels” I wrote on summer afternoons, my teenage-girl protagonists, more often than not, threw wicked sliders while scraping their long shiny hair from their eyes as all the boy ballplayers looked on in awe.
For those who know me, you know I am probably the most un-sportsy person ever, but I still feel excited about baseball. I don’t follow it much any more, but it does remind me of my grandpa, always. He died last week; I last saw him in January. I miss him.
I relate the baseball story because my Grandpa was a teacher and a good one. And I think that what made him such a good teacher was his curiosity. He was always learning and open to knowledge, and was then able to pass that on as he acquired more. Throughout my life, I’ve seen him diving and delving into all things: languages, music, theater, travel, genealogy, ham radio, computers, fixing things, hot air balloons, bird watching, on and on. Every time he and my grandma traveled, he would be full of stories of everything they saw and all they learned. I like to think, to hope, that my questioning and curiosity comes from him.
I’ve been writing a bit about my Grandpa’ his life and death, hoping to fashion something that captures our love for him and the lives he touched. What do we say at the end of a life so vigorous, the life of a person so stubborn, so full of stories and a laugh I will never forget, sometimes gruff on the surface and tender underneath? Until I think of something better, “I love you” is all I have. “Thank you” and “I love you”, always.
My Grandpa had music in his soul, and I want to end with a song for him from the Wailin’ Jennys. He and my grandma introduced me to A Prairie Home Companion when I was young, and although I don’t listen any more, I happened to learn of the Wailin’ Jennys from their appearance on the show about a decade ago. I love their harmonies and the stark hopefulness in this song. Safe travels, Grandpa, and a very peaceful rest.