Rural Illinois. It’s been a hard year for 10-year-old Greg. It’s not just global pandemics, scary events in Washington D.C., nor the fact that it’s colder than eighteen-hundred-and-froze-to-death outside. It’s more than that. Greg’s mother has breast cancer. So everything stinks.
Greg decided it was time to make his own fun. The problem is, of course, all the conditions were against him. The winter sky looked like pewter. And it was so cold you had to open the fridge to heat the house.
But then, nothing is impossible for a dedicated child. Greg decided he was going to get up a baseball game.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, because I’m thinking the same thing. What an unfitting season to have a ballgame. Especially when your region is experiencing lows of 20 to 30 degrees.
But it’s been a weird year for Greg, completely devoid of fun. He and his brother have watched his mother fight with her own body. And they have watched Greg’s father learn to do laundry, cook suppers, and become a caregiver. They needed fun.
First, Greg approached Jason (age 9) and Andrew (10), who said they were all in for a ballgame. Next, the boys talked to Jon (10) and his brother Van (13). Everyone said, yeah, a baseball game was totally doable.
Whereupon they all biked to Martin’s (11) house, and pitched the idea. Martin was immediately onboard. But there was a snag. Martin’s sister, Laura (7), wanted to play too.
At which point Martin’s mother (42) said the boys had better include Martin’s sister or else they would have to clean the gutters for their Granny (74).
“Laura plays too rough,” explains her brother. “But we said she could play if she didn’t punch anybody.”
Laura crossed her heart. So things were working out.
Then Jon’s mother got involved. Mainly, because Jon’s mother is one of those type-A people who actually enjoys organizing things. You know the kind of individual I’m referring to. Give them a free afternoon and their idea of “fun” is reorganizing the guest closet with a slide ruler and tape measure.
During my phone interview with Jon’s mother she indeed admitted that during the pandemic she has cleaned every closet in her house multiple times.
But hey, the fact is you need strict people like Jon’s mother if you’re ever going to accomplish something like Greg’s community game. Which is exactly what she did. With Jon’s mom at the helm, things were really cooking.
The first thing Jon’s mother did was call her church. Because as it happens, Jon’s mother has a lot of church friends. Plus, the church was the perfect place to hold a get-together. Although some work needed to be done to the church pasture. For starters, it had to be mowed.
So the church ladies called Albert, the church maintenance man, and asked him to mow. He said sure, he would do that, and even better, he said he’d serve as the game’s umpire.
This was shaping up to be a great day for Greg.
But the ladies were just getting started. Because there remained the unresolved issue of food. You can’t have a big todo without mayonnaise-based foods and at least five dishes featuring melted cheese. Jon’s mother organized a casserole assembly line.
The menu resembled any church supper you’ve ever seen, except each plate was premade and plastic-covered to prevent the spread of germs.
The menu included: potato casserole, cheesy potato casserole, cream of potato casserole, scalloped potatoes, potatoes au gratin, twice baked potato casserole, bacon potato casserole, hashed brown casserole, baked potatoes, new potatoes, and not surprisingly, potato salad.
“We aren’t afraid of potatoes in the Midwest,” said Jon’s mother.
Soon, the event had taken on a life of its own. Greg was elated. More mothers were called. More children were invited. News of the big game eventually reached people’s dads too. And this is when things got good.
Everyone’s father was very excited to be on the baseball wagon. One father explains why:
“I have no life. My job is working from home, so I never leave. I basically sit in the basement all day, buying stuff online.”
On Saturday afternoon, people began to gather in the old pasture, socially distanced. The maintenance man spray-painted baselines on the scalped grass and nailed basebags into the ground.
“Greg’s family has had a hard year,” said the old janitor. “It was the least I could do for Greg.”
Most people brought blankets or lawn chairs, and everyone was dressed in thermal wear and multiple layers. There were outdoor propane heaters, and plenty of thermoses containing hot beverages.
I asked Jon’s mother if alcohol had been allowed on church premises. Jon’s mother paused for a moment. Then she said, “Are you gonna print my answer?”
On the edge of the field sat Greg’s mother in her wheelchair. She was bundled so tightly that only her eyes showed. Greg sat in her lap until gametime, his head pressed against her chest.
The game was a war. There were six players on Team Dad, 14 players on Team Kid. And for a few glorious but cold hours people did what humans were designed to do. Smile.
Everybody agreed it was a success. And although it was a small gathering of about 39, there were big cheers. The applause was muffled with gloves and mittens. And the score was non-existent. But you should have seen the looks on the faces. You would have forgotten all about the current state of our world.
I think, however, young Greg described the day best in an email he sent:
“I was happy to see my mom having fun. I hope God makes her better.”