(Blogger’s note: We moved to our old neighborhood in Austin in 1997. Below is a column I wrote for the Dallas Morning News about our neighbors and life on our block in the spring of 1999. Part two will be about getting together with some of our old neighbors recently, looking back on some of the changes we’ve all been through since the original column.)
Like everyone else in the bleachers, we went to the baseball game for different reasons.
I was there because it was spring break, and I couldn’t get any work done. No wonder. There were four adolescents sprawled in the living room next to my office. They were inhaling soft drinks, cackling and making fun of the horror movies they were watching.
Wouldn’t a baseball game be healthier than that? I’d always wanted to take my son to a University of Texas baseball game, anyway. That was one of those things I’d filed in some kind of “remember to do someday” list in my mind. Besides, it was a beautiful spring day.
I gave the kids strict instructions they all had to bring baseball gloves so they could catch any balls that came our way. If I got clobbered by a line drive, I hinted ominously, I’d quickly lose my good humor and immediately cut off my son’s supply of junk food.
The kids came back to our house with money and baseball gloves and piled into the car — my son and his friends Skylerr, J.J. and Lee. Lee’s a year or two younger than the other kids, with a sweet face and big, brown eyes.
Earlier that morning, Lee had gone to see his grandmother in the hospital. She was a charming, vibrant woman — the kind of grandmother every child should have — who took the neighborhood kids to parties, miniature golf and amusement arcades. Three weeks earlier, she’d checked into the hospital for a routine hysterectomy and had never come home. She’d been diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer.
“It ward hard for Lee to see her — the way she’s changed,” Lee’s mother, Pam, said when I called her. “I’ve seen her every day, and I guess I just didn’t realize how much she’d changeed.”
But that afternoon, we didn’t have to think about any of this. We could go to the baseball game.
The kids spilled out of the car, laughing at some of the worst jokes I’ve ever heard, elbowing one another and racing to stand in line at the box office. I parked the car with my friend Martha, and she and I trekked back to the baseball stadium, winding our way through jammed parking lots and medians with shaggy new grass. The four kids were waiting in line by the time we got there, thumping their baseball gloves, practically vibrating with excitement.
“I’m starving,” my son said, since it had been at least an hour since his last meal.
We sat in the bleachers, close to first base, and the kids promptly forgot they were supposed to be protecting me from stray line drives. They leaned over the cyclone fence, right along the “Do Not Lean on This Fence” sign, and demolished several rounds of nachos, boxes of stale popcorn, and soft drinks the size of one of the smaller Great Lakes.
Martha and I sat in the bleachers and chatted idly about books we’d read, people we knew, and trips we’d taken. We talked about a lot of things. But what we didn’t talk about was the checkup Martha had scheduled later in the week — the blood tests and CT scans to see whether her cancer was still in remission.
Instead, we talked about lots of other topics, and sometimes we even watched the game. The college guys who played were lean and good-looking as they stretched, heaved the ball, and dived for bases. To look at them, so young and earnest, you’d think they were untouched by life’s sadnesses and limitations. But maybe they weren’t. Maybe that’s a foolish assumption you make when you don’t know anything at all about someone else’s life.
We watched them play this game, where there were rules, predictability, clear definitions and scoreboards. We had to leave before the end of the game and maybe, I thought, that was just as well, since Texas was losing. We walked back into the world where spring was green and fragrant and where lives were ending and going forward.
It took us days till we understood more. We’d left before some kind of thrilling, late-inning rally by UT to win — the most exciting part of the game and we’d missed it, Martha told me over the phone the next day. We were both irritated. How pathetic can you get, we asked each other, leaving a baseball game at exactly the wrong moment?
The days passed as spring break unwound like some sort of wild, chaotically colored kite string. The kids ran up and down the block and spent the night at each other’s houses. Lee’s grandmother died that week. The beautiful weather turned to rain, then back to brilliantly blue skies. Martha learned she’d have to go to the hospital for a biopsy.
My son loved the baseball game so much, he said, that he wants to go back for his birthday. Why not? I think. It’s his thirteenth birthday today, and we’ll go wherever he wants to go. We’ll watch the game if we feel like it. We’ll wait for the final score and hope it delights us again this time. And whenever we get the chance, we’ll lean on the fence or anything else that holds us up.
While we’re there, we’ll watch the clouds gather and pass and gather again. Spring is like that, you know.
(Copyright 1999 by Ruth Pennebaker)
For a loosely related post, please see our version of the neighborhood watch, which some people might call “nosiness”