Remember back in church when they used to tell us to pray for the shut-ins? Well, that’s exactly what I’ve become. A shut-in.
A lot of people have become that way since this coronavirus thing started, millions have been stuck inside. And it’s the little things we’ve lost that hurt the most. Things like baseball.
I could have endured this quarantine if I would have had baseball. But it’s the fourth official day of summer and baseball is still in limbo. Summer without baseball isn’t summer.
We lost more than just baseball. We lost eating at restaurants where waiters don’t dress like masked ninjas. We lost the pleasure of meandering in the grocery store without feeling like you’re racing toward the last chopper out of Saigon.
Yesterday, I saw my neighbor in Publix, wearing a surgical mask. I waved at him, but he didn’t see me. He was busy sprinting for the door while disinfecting his hands with isopropyl alcohol.
Right now, my wife and I are on a leisurely drive because I had to get out of the house. Nobody tells you how hard it is to be stuck indoors. If I would have known how difficult it was, I would have prayed harder for the shut-ins.
So we’re riding dirt roads. Hank Williams plays on our radio. I don’t know what we’re looking for, but I’ll know it when I see it.
And there it is.
A painted sign on a red-clay road that reads: “tomatoes.” I feel a thrill beneath my ribs. I haven’t felt this good in 109 days. Our vehicle splashes through mud puddles. Hank Williams sings another chorus of “Dear John.”
After a few hours of following cow paths through a Floridian wilderness, passing trailer homes, swamps, creeks, and horse pastures, we find it. A vegetable shack in the distance, tucked among live oaks and magnolias.
An old man with a white beard is seated on an overturned bucket, swatting flies. “How’re y’all?” he says. “Just picked the okree this morning.”
When a guy calls it “okree” you know you’re among family.
He also sells creamer peas, crowder peas, zipper peas, Silver Queen corn, and—hallelujah—homegrown heirlooms. Not the red aberrations you get in the supermarket that taste like U.S. parcel. These are real ‘maters.
He has a hanging scale dangling from his rafters, the kind used in grocery stores long ago. The ones from the days when you would visit the supermarket with your mother, still wearing your Little League uniform, and the butcher always had a butterscotch Dum Dum for you in his pocket.
I buy two five-gallon buckets of tomatoes and lots of veggies. The old man only charges me a pittance. Country people aren’t greedy.
On the way home, my wife and I strike gold again. We see a large roadside stand selling white peaches. We pull over and fill our trunk.
The cash register is manned by three children. Two 12-year-old twin girls and their 6-year-old brother. They are wearing surgical masks and selling lemonade. The girls try to sell me some.
“No thanks,” I say.
“Please?” says the 6-year-old. “It’s for a good cause.”
“Really? What cause?” I ask.
I give them a buck, but I skip the lemonade. I will never in my long-legged life drink from another lemonade stand. A few years ago I bought some lemonade from a bunch of Cub Scouts in Virginia. One kid had a runny nose. The heathen wiped his snotty face with his bare hands, then dipped his whole arm into the pitcher and stirred it.
After that, I made a solemn oath to never drink lemonade prepared by anyone under 30.
We drive onward. We roll across backroads that I haven’t seen in years. I pull over at a place where the blackberries grow wild. This is a spot my wife and I used to visit all the time when we were dating. We used to pick berries in the ditches because they were free. I don’t know why we quit coming.
We have the entire ditch to ourselves this afternoon. Soon, we are in the open sun, picking dewberries, using our T-shirts as makeshift baskets.
And life is beginning to feel normal again. Since COVID-19, the Great American Summer began disappearing before it even started. It is almost Fourth of July right now, and where has the year gone? God help us come Christmas.
The national parks closed. Supermarkets sell hazmat suits. Family reunions were cancelled. Baseball became a myth. Some places are open. Others aren’t. It’s hit and miss. In some towns it’s hell on earth. In other spots, people are dancing the rhumba on the beach. There is no logic to it.
The worst part is, there is nothing anyone can do about it.
When we get home, I open our windows and let a summer breeze fill our den. The kitchen windowsill is littered with ripe tomatoes. My wife is making a blackberry cobbler. I hear the sound of a distant lawnmower fill the air.
I know I shouldn’t, but something makes me turn on the television to catch the nightly news.
“Breaking news,” the newscaster says. “Major League Baseball is returning…”
Baseball. My God. Can it be true? It’s enough to make a grown man cry. I sit on my sofa, place my head into my hands, and I weep a little because it’s been a long spring for us all. But thank heaven, summer is here.
Don’t forget to pray for the shut-ins.