The week of the Boston Marathon bombing and the workplace explosion in West, Texas, it was impossible not to feel guilty about a nagging sense of loss from flooding. Even there, many people in west-central Illinois were hit far harder, losing everything short of their lives.
Still, there’s a nagging feeling of despair that makes you want to wad up the “Serenity” prayer and throw it into some overflowing gutter.
After 10 inches of water flooded our basement in 1993, we moved almost everything off the floor 12 inches and got a de-watering system. Then the night of April 17, the drains backed up, the sump pump failed and 20 inches of water settled in. Besides appliances, clothes and food, lost mementoes include dozens of videos (ranging from 12 volumes of classic “Rocky and Bullwinkle” cartoons to my son’s high school basketball game tapes) and hundreds of vinyl record albums. Those included the end of the alphabet of my many LPs – the Soulard Blues Band and the Sons of the Pioneers; Fats Waller and the Who; Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys and Frank Zappa – but also a stack of favorites set aside for a summer reunion of ’60s college activists: from Crosby, Stills & Nash to It’s A Beautiful Day. It sure didn’t seem like a beautiful day.
Plus, there also were two cardboard boxes with clips of my newspaper stories from decades of writing in Macomb, Peoria, Quad Cities, San Diego and Washington. “Poof” (or, OK, maybe, “glub.”)
It’s less vanity than validation for journalists to hang on to our clips. Much of the material is not as memorable as it is proof of effort, of labor and of loving the work if not always the results.
So I just want to curl up into a ball and clench my whole body, but I know I just need to count my blessings. So I…sit with loads of wash for an hour in a laundromat, walk the dog, mow the yard, buy a bag of Golden Age comic books for a few neighborhood boys, and retreat to the refuge of baseball.
Yes, baseball. A new season is a time of hope and memories of the National Pastime – and of fathers and sons. Everything’s fresh and new (if cold and dormant); everyone has an equal chance (depending on off-season acquisitions and injuries); and there are endless possibilities (at least through 162 games). It also conjures pleasant recollections of cigar-smoked, beer-fueled, ice-encrusted treks to Opening Day at Wrigley with a few friends. My son accompanied us a couple of times, adding to a father-son connection we shared through many days at Wrigley, a couple of playoff appearances, and even one summer’s trip to eight Major League Baseball games in seven cities over a week and a half escape to Baseball Nirvana. (He’s a lawyer now in St. Louis, where he wears Cubs regalia to Busch Stadium, but he’s also home, featured in a framed photo above my desk, catching a fly ball in Wrigley’s right field in 1995 on a day the club let fans on the field.)
Last month, my own dad, a lifelong Redbirds fan, turned 85 and said he was going to watch the Cubs this season because he can no longer stand Cardinals announcers. That means we’ll share some hopes and shocks recounting adventures with Anthony Rizzo and Carlos Marmol, as well as recall playing catch 50 years ago, when he taught me a decent knuckleball when my fastball couldn’t compete with two fireballers on my team.
Watching the Cubs or Bees or Chiefs or playing Senior Softball, I’m reassured and warmed by baseball. When I concentrate, I hear crowds that never existed at high school or youth league games; I smell sweat decades dry and glove oil long evaporated; and I also see impossibly green grass between rows of bridal wreath bushes and Dad smiling, squatting at the garage backstop beneath a big shade tree and showing me a target and waiting for the pitch.
Others have described baseball as fathers playing catch with sons (as opposed to football: brothers beating up each other). That’s true, I believe.
And whether it’s a sunny day game in Chicago or another drizzly night in rain-soaked western Illinois, I can let baseball keep storm losses in perspective. I can feel the ball return to the pocket in my glove, and I swear I hear my son – maybe me – saying, “Just one more throw, Pop. C’mon, Dad, one more.”
As for the loss of a lifetime’s clips, if not exactly the work, I take some comfort in the memorable line by journalist Alexander Woollcott, who decades ago wrote, “I count it a high honor to belong to a profession in which the good men write every paragraph, every sentence, every line, as lovingly as any Addison or Steele, and do so in full regard that by tomorrow it will have been burned, or used, if at all, to line a shelf.”
Bill Knight’s newspaper columns are archived at billknightcolumn.blogspot.com
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or Western Illinois University.