How I Came to Write This Book – Part 5
Part 5: LIFE LESSON TAUGHT BY A FOUR-YEAR-OLD
Their names were Samantha, Loreal, Cory, Dwayne, Maurice, Eddie Jr., Natasha, Andrew, and Clifford. They lived in the neighborhood surrounding the relic we called home, Grainger Stadium; we, being me and Gary Fitzpatrick (who, at age 30, had left his job as a DJ at an FM-Radio Station in Boston to follow his dream to own a ballclub). The year was 1984.
At age 24, I was the General Manager of Gary’s fantasy, and a willing participant in his game as the Pied Piper — the children adored him. It was the magical time before the dawn of our now litigious society; so we had no worries about letting the kids roam free on our professional playground located within walking distance to their homes.
Life’s Simple Pleasures
We took time out from our busy schedules to play with them some days, and found that ice cream novelties were a shared pleasure. Eddie Jr. was the youngest of the group. At age four he knew which door lock fit every key on my janitor-like-ball-and-chain. One day he followed me through three locked portals to the souvenirs warehouse in hopes of a new toy. While I was up a ladder searching for a particular pile of trinkets, I suddenly heard the quick slamming of three doors and his little munchkin voice sing-songing outside the open small windows near the ceiling, “Val-er-ie, I locked you in-nn,” to the accompaniment of shaking keys.
Yep, he did. It was only after threatening him that he would never eat another ice cream treat from our humble confines that he set me free. Another time he walked into the office while I was at my typewriter, hands behind his back, and a sheepish giggle on his lips. He swung his little arms around with fists closed. I tapped one. He opened his palm to reveal a red rose (the only one that had, thus far, revealed itself on the bush beside our headquarters). He had clipped the flower right at the base of the bud, but it was more precious to me than a dozen of the long-stemmed variety.
One day I was holding him in my arms inside the park before a ballgame and a woman said to me, “Oh, your son is so adorable.” I simply thanked her. But after she walked away, he looked at me with a half-amused and half-scolding face and said, “I’m not your little boy.”
No, he wasn’t. He was the child of the mixed race couple that lived in the trailer across the street. One morning he heard me on the phone say to the person on the other end of the line, “I’ll meet you here at my office…” He had been on his way out the door (his hand on the doorknob), when he stopped in his tracks and wheeled his head around with a look of consternation. “This ain’t no office,” he said. “It’s yo house.”
Take Time to Smell the Rose(s)
It was one of those V8 moments where I could have easily whacked my forehead, saying, “Of course he would think this place is my house…he gets up in the morning and runs over – I’m here… his mother calls him home at night – I’m still here. Dah, college girl. You think maybe you’re workin’ just a bit too much? Maybe you oughtta mix in a day off now and then.”
What a joy those kids were. A couple years later when I was finally living my own dream with a job in the Bigs and Gary was still in Kinston, I looked up my ol’ club in The Baseball Blue Book to see if my former boss had added anyone I knew to the staff. (The Blue Book was a directory of every front office member of every club in both the Major and Minor Leagues.)
When I found Kinston alphabetically among the members of the Carolina League, I was shocked to see a long list of names. But upon closer scrutiny, my shock turned to laughter. Gary had given every kid from the neighborhood an official title, from Team Physician to Director of Souvenirs. They were all there.
I often wonder where those children, now adults, are today. I should have kept in closer contact. I hope their lives have been better than some from that place, especially the one whose body was found in the backyard of Clifford and Andrew’s neighbor when I was still working nearby.
Perhaps that incident should have made Gary and me nervous, more vigilant, but it didn’t. Like the children, we thought of it as just another part of living our own television drama. Truly. That’s what those days feel like in my memory, surreal, almost as if someone else had lived them.
Eddie Jr. thought my office was my house, and I thought my life was a TV show. We were both wrong. It was part of my education that led to FATIMA AND THE SONS OF ABRAHAM, a story about the neighborhood we call Earth, and strangers who become friends on the road to truth.