Lining the walls of my garage are several pieces of memorabilia. Most of them are related to sports one way or another, but one of my favorite pieces is not. It is an old Seven Caves road sign that was presented to me as a surprise gift not so long ago.
There was no special occasion on the day it arrived. It was not my birthday, anniversary or anything of the kind. A friend just showed up at our house, started to head inside to see my wife, stopped when she saw me, and said she had something for me. When I saw what it was, I was shocked and surprised at the same time – more than happy, but still struggled to keep a tear from slipping down my cheek.
The friend said she didn’t know anyone that would appreciate the sign as much as I would. She already had one, and she wanted me to have this one.
You see, The Seven Caves hold deep and treasured memories for me. But the caves no longer exist as I knew them, and several of the friends who shared those memories have passed on. So while I was elated when I received the gift, there was a twinge of sadness, too, not only because of good times gone by, but because someone was generous enough to give me a priceless keepsake.
That is why a column I read in The Times-Gazette this week plucked a heartstring.
The author was Clinton County Commissioner Pat Haley, whose columns we publish regularly. This particular column was about his youthful days playing baseball on a field in Port William, how much those days meant to him, and how he felt when someone recently gifted him an old home plate from the field.
Mr. Haley said he has always been a baseball man.
I am not. I spent countless hours playing baseball and wiffle ball in backyards when I was kid, but by the time I was 12 and had played four years of Little League, that was enough for me. Don’t get me wrong, we still played ball in the backyards, but I was bored with summer afternoon practices when I might touch the ball once every five or 10 minutes, and have never once regretted quitting Little League baseball.
Oddly enough, though, for many years I was a slo-pitch softball guy.
It started when I was young, following my dad to games all around the area. Sometime in my later teen years I started playing in church leagues, and before long I was playing more nights than I didn’t. A knee injury mostly ended those days, but while I was recovering, I became a slo-pitch softball umpire. For about 18 more years I continued to umpire and help run a ball park, pretty much on my own the last dozen years or so, with the help of a groundskeeper or two, and from time to time my young sons.
No one has ever presented me with a keepsake from those years. I do not need one. I have my own. There are a few T-shirts and plaques tucked away that were never claimed by their rightful owners. There are some old softballs and scorebooks stored in the attic, one brand new softball is still in its original box, and in a cabinet in my garage there is a collection of ball gloves that were left at the park and never retrieved. Some of them are worthless, but some of them are not.
One of them is made of a deep reddish leather. It’s a well-made slo-pitch softball outfielder’s glove and is very long – so long that I never cared to use it much.
But when my youngest son was 6 or 7 he took a liking to it. I tried to convince him to use others gloves, but he liked the really big red one. I will never forget the day when he was playing shortstop in T-ball, wearing that massive glove that looked about half as big as he was. He snagged a high line drive, ran over and stepped on second base, then threw to first base to complete a triple play. The umpires were so stunned it took them a while to figure out what had happened.
My dad used the gloves, too. He always seemed to prefer an old tattered glove, but he misplaced one a few years back and borrowed a couple of my old ball park gloves. He was using one of them two years ago when he played his last softball game at 76 years old.
Mostly, the old softball gloves rest in the cabinet now. But I store the good ones with a softball wrapped inside, and sometimes when spring roles around, there is a smell in the air and thoughts of days gone by come to mind, I get the grandson to toss a few balls with me and bring the old gloves back to life.
I keep a lot of things like the old gloves. There are probably several reasons why, but mostly it’s because they make me smile.
In his column, Mr. Haley talks about sitting near an apple butter tent and watching the smoke curl from a copper kettle before he was presented with his home plate. Then he wrote these words: “The smoke from the old kettle must have gotten in my eyes, I told (my wife). She smiled, knowing that sadness and happiness often go hand-in-hand, and (the giver’s) kindness touched my soul.”
I know, Mr. Haley. I know.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.