Thursday, March 1, 2012

A grandfather's wish

I am up too early.
I am getting to an age where I resemble, so much, the memory of my grandfather. 
I believe that in that same memory, he was probably a bit older than I am now.  He was already up drinking coffee when the morning paper was delivered.   
I was mesmerized by this man.  At one time in his life, he played catcher for the Cincinnati Reds professional baseball team. Sports, was religion.  A man who didn't pay attention to scores, stats, standings, and pennant races, well, that was not a man at all. 
My own mother was his recently, violently lost, favorite daughter.  That pain changed him in ways that I could never have understood. Not then. Now I understand it, now I know. I have grown daughters of my own.  I can only imagine the torment of losing either of them to an act of violence, or to anything for that matter.
I spent a few precious years with this man.  I adored him. I wanted to be him!
I held an esteemed place in his heart as well.
I was his last hope for a professional athlete in our family.  At that time, my older cousins and brothers had somehow lost that place and it was me he was hanging his hat on.  For whatever reason, in their case, he had decided that the talent or the interest perhaps, wasn't going to materialize.  With me, he still had some hope.  I loved sports and participated from a very young age. I played little league baseball from the second grade through all my school years in school and was always in the starting team with respectable average, stats, whatever. 
My grandfather assumed that every boy that played little league baseball, naturally, wanted to play big league baseball.  He was probably, at least pretty close on that assumption.  So he made it his mission to teach me, to persuade me, to influence me, to play ball on a professional level.  Therefore, every morning, I got an experts view of the necessary facts and figures.  While I ate and dressed, he talked.  I loved this time with him.  I thought he hung the damn moon.  I listened and remembered and would pass along the stuff that stuck in my memory to the other boys on this same premature big league quest. 
He would walk with me to school.  He would tell me about his own days as a player, and of his love for the game.  I thought then that I really would always play baseball.  I knew that someday he would sit in the stands, or in front of the television, and be proud of me.  I was twelve and I had a twelve year old boy's dreams.  My grandfather told me of how he had to quit his professional baseball career because it didn't pay enough money to raise his six children and that was his first responsibility.  Then he'd smile and explain that these days ball players were finally paid what they deserve and a man could etch out a living from March To October doing what he loved.  If he had known then, 1972, what would come of baseball after his demise, I think he may have not even made me go to school and waste precious practice time.
I was of course, by this time, an already troubled child.  My angst was due to start the over boil point soon after this and my grandfather and I were unable to continue our relationship much longer.  I would however, be an occasional part of his household, because of my need to run from everything else, for the rest of his life.  Every time I got in trouble, he and my maternal grandmother would open the doors of there home until something else came along.  Each time I returned though, his faith in my direction in life became weaker.  I was not exactly showing signs of dedication to the sport that would be necessary to future greatness. 
My grandfather died, probably, before his time due to illness brought on by alcoholism.  
I was seventeen at the time of his passing.  I was a juvenile delinquent and a huge disappointment to him.  The very last time I saw him alive he had no words of love for me.  He cussed me and told me how I had let him down. He told me how much I spat on my own mother's memory every day that I rebelled.  Man, the guilt and fear that passed through me when I looked up and saw tears rolling down his scruffily bearded face. It was horrifying.
I had never seen him cry and it blew me away. I could have never imagine him crying, and it was I that brought the tears for this proud, dignified man. 
That is why I remember it all so clearly. He really had cried, over me and my lack of motivation.  He actually referred to me as a "hophead."  I sneered then and showed no signs of giving a damn.  I did give a damn though, I really did, I just didn't know how to make that okay. 
I still love his memory, admire his life, and empathize with his pain and loss.  I now have of course, a grandson of my own.  My very last hope for him would be to walk in any form of my footsteps. 
I instead, will tell the boy of his great, great, grandfather's dream A dream of somebody carrying the big time sports torch.  Who knows, maybe it will spark an interest. 
If nothing else, it could spark a pride of family or tradition, or a hope for a better tomorrow. 
Who knows?
Who can say, we'll just have to see.


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