I was standing in line at a gas station in rural South Carolina. I had pulled over to use the bathroom, to buy a hot cup of mud, and God willing, to purchase chili cheese Fritos.
There were two kids in baseball uniforms, standing ahead of me in line. It was October.
Little League isn’t generally played in October, I was thinking. Maybe they were attending a baseball camp. Maybe it was just a practice?
They were your quintessential American boys. White pants, stained in red clay. Jerseys untucked. Hair, bleached by the sun. They smelled like little-boy sweat.
They reminded me of a thousand feckless summers I spent shagging fly balls. I was a chubby outfielder who wore Husky jeans. But in my heart, I was Dale Murphy.
When the two boys reached the cashier, the old woman called them by name and asked how they’re families were doing. And that’s when I noticed one of the boys was missing his left arm.
The boy used several contorted movements to place his items onto the counter without dropping them.
He was buying mostly candy. Resse’s. Crunch bar. Skittles. Starburst. Gatorade—Frost-Glacier blue. The only thing missing was the Big League Chew.
Has our culture fallen so far that young ball players no longer appreciate Big League Chew? This columnist wants to know.
The woman behind the register just smiled at him. Her voice sounded like a pack of Newports.
“How’d you play today?” she said.
He shrugged. “Okay, I guess.”
“Are you in pain?”
He rotated his missing arm at the shoulder socket. “I’m still getting used to it.”
She nodded. “I’ll bet.”
Another smile from the woman. “You’re doing great, sweetie. You’ll adjust. It’ll take time, but after a while it’ll be almost second nature. Look how far you’ve already come.”
She placed his candy into a small plastic bag. “You were out there trying, that’s what matters. Lot of boys wouldn’t even do that much.”
She underlined her point by saying, “I am so proud of you, sweetie, you know that?”
He said nothing. The kid took his candy and left. I watched the boy wander through the parking lot with a clot of other kids in uniforms. I saw the other kids laughing and pushing each other around.
The young man with the amputation, however, kept off to the side. He wasn’t in the mood for horse play. They all piled into a minivan driven by someone’s dad. The tail lights winked out of sight.
I wanted to ask the woman about this boy. I wanted to know how he lost his arm. I wanted to know how a child who has lost his arm has the wherewithal to even attempt to play baseball with other kids his age.
I to somehow tell him what it meant to me to see him wearing his magnificent uniform.
Instead, I just bought my Fritos and java and kept silent. Before I left, I turned to thank the cashier and said:
“That boy who was in here just now, you know him?”
“Yeah, I know him.”
“He seemed like a pretty incredible kid.”
“Oh, he is.”
“Can you get a message to him for me?”
She smiled. “Sure.”
“Please tell him to buy some Big League Chew next time. It’s important.”
Another smile. “Okay.”
“And please, tell him you’re not ￼the only one who’s proud of him.”