Kid Memories

The Day I Picked Iron Man and My Grandmas Died

Given that I can remember the details of December 26th, 1972 even though I was only 4 speaks loudly about how messed up that day was. As Aunt Norma put it recently, and with the best possible description that could be put to it, “That was the worst day”.

The tree looked a bit tired with only the already opened gifts strewn about beneath it’s branches, but the lights still made it feel like Christmas. “Go pick out the pajamas you want to wear tonight and then come sit on my lap” my Dad directed from the small wood framed chair, upholstered in a woolen mix of brown, black and orange checkers, and that sat against the south wall of the living room facing the front door. I was thrilled to zoom to the tree so I could choose from the two pair of footie pjs Santa had delivered that year. Each set was emblazoned with the respective logo and appropriate color scheme for the super hero they represented. I would be wearing the bright red and gold of Iron Man that night. No pink or other such girlie stuff for this kid. Mom was always a good sport about giving me what made me happy even if it tortured her to shop in the “boys” section.

Speaking of Mom, she was nowhere to be seen. Of course, I didn’t give that any thought then, but now it makes perfect sense.

With my package of pajamas crinkling and crunching as I held the plastic wrapped treasure tightly to my chest, I climbed into Dad’s lap, beaming with joy over my selection. “Look at me sweetie. I have something to tell you”. I craned my neck to look up into his eyes and could immediately see the sadness. “Your Grandma Pfau died this morning honey”. What he didn’t tell me was that a car had jumped the curb, mowed her down, and left her for dead on the sidewalk that had been her daily path to work at the church. “Why?” I half asked half cried. Before he could answer, we were interrupted by the knock. Dad stood with me in his arms, wiped his face, and carried me the few short steps to the front door. Standing on our porch was my dad’s brother Gordon and his wife Norma. “I have more bad news Bob” Gordy said with a face so pained I can call it up perfectly in my mind’s eye even 42 years later. “Mom died tonight”.

My Dad cried out and then set me down, still clutching my package of night clothes. I backed up and watched the 3 adults comfort each other. What they didn’t tell me was that she had been administered a dose of penicillin, lethal to her, ending abruptly and cruelly her winning campaign against pancreatic cancer.

Aunt Norma scooped me up and carried me to the family room in the back of the house. There was Mom, alone and grieving the loss of her Mother. Norma put me down and wrapped her arms around Mom, wedging me between their legs where I stood listening to their sobs and hugging my Iron Man pajamas.

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Kid Memories

How I Became A Pitcher

From just about the time I could successfully put one foot in front of the other while chomping on a wad of gum, I had a softball glove on my hand. This early adoption of the sport in no way indicates I was some wunderkind who took to the diamond like a fish does to water. Nope, I was pretty mediocre really. In my first season I was placed at second base. The only reason I can even imagine that I got an infield position is that my dad was the coach and some of the kids, honestly, were way shittier than me. I’m positive that I stopped more balls with the side of my head than my glove.

In an effort to improve my skills and, I assume, make me less afraid of the ball, Dad figured that I had to be immersed in fear and unable to get out of the way of the ball. To that end he would make me stand with my back to our garage door, reminiscent of a prisoner who has reached the end of the line and will now be executed by firing squad, while he hurled zinger after zinger at me. Apparently, I was much more nimble at escaping the pummeling of a 12 inch ball than I was at simply lifting my left arm to intercept it as it screamed toward my head. I think Dad attempted this drill for about a week before he realized that the payoff of my catching one or two balls was far outweighed by the damage that would inveitably be done as I a ducked and dodged my way to safety. The garage door became polka dotted with white markings as the skin of the ball was scraped off every time it came in contact with the brown wooden surface. The cessation of this ineffective and horrifying training technique also probably ended much more prematurely than it otherwise would have due to the ear piercing sound the ball made as it crunched the door over and over again. My mother just couldn’t tolerate it to be honest. As much as she wanted me to be a success, her sanity usually won out over any practice that caused too much noise. I am pretty sure my career as a flautist was squashed because Mom’s nerves couldn’t take me screeching out one more attempt at “Born Free” or “The Entertainer”.

My skittishness about sacrificing my body to stop the ball ended one fateful day during that first season. I was playing for my dad’s team called 40 et 8. We were named for the local bingo parlor in Vancouver, Washington. Our pitcher Carrie was a stud. Even as a 3rd grader, I understood that she was a natural athlete. My dad talked about her with awe in his voice. I envied her. She got to be part of every play and she never jumped out of the way of any ball that came at her. On the day in question, Carrie, as amazing as she was, met her match when an opponent got a hold of one of her pitches and drove it back up the middle with probably less force than my 8 year old memory has conjured up, but, nonetheless, it was enough. Carrie couldn’t get her glove up in time and got hit square in the nose. From my vantage point in the gap between the bags marking 1st and 2nd it looked like pure carnage. Blood squirting all over her glove as she used it cover her face and screams from the crowd drowning out Carrie’s own. My stomache flipped and flopped as my dad and our other coach tended to Carrie and guided her off the field where her parents were ready to take her off to the hospital. My dad then called the 8 of us still left on the field to the damaged pitching circle. Drops of blood that were once bright red, now littered the space, turning a deep burgundy as the air and dust dried them. “Does anyone want to pitch?” my dad asked almost apologetically. No one made eye contact. We all just kept staring at the blood. Some of the little girls were even crying. Dad realized that the blood was probably going to be a major deterrent to getting the answer he needed and wisely used his foot to disperse the evidence of Carrie’s splattered nose. As my heart thumped wildly in my chest, remembering that not only had our kick ass pitcher just been taken down but that I only had about a 10% success rate in stopping staged attempts at my life with my back to the garage door, I inexplicably opened my mouth and uttered “I’ll try Dad”.

And then I did. From that day forward, pitching was my thing and fielding seemed much less terrifying. I practiced for hours, attended pitching clinics, and even begged my dad to barrage me with line drives and ground balls. Something about being in control of the defensive side of the game changed things for me. No one was going to get anything by me. It was my field to protect and I wasn’t going to let it suffer the same fate as that now battered garage door.

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Kid Memories

Doors

My Dad spent 31 years on the fire department of Vancouver, Washington, retiring with the rank of Battalion Chief.  As might be expected, our house was well equipped with smoke detectors and our family had an evacuation plan in the event of any emergency, but Dad made sure we were most prepared to get out of the house unscathed if it were on fire.  He also had a very strict set of bylaws in his fire safety manifesto.  Never leave the dryer running and be sure to triple check that the stove, coffee pot and iron are off before leaving the house unattended even for just a few minutes.  Keep bedroom doors closed at night while you’re sleeping.  “This is to keep the fire out as long as possible and give you time to climb out the window” he would remind my sister and me periodically from the time we were old enough to understand. And finally, if you hear the smoke alarm, always feel the closed door for heat before opening it.

This last rule was the big one. The one that required testing and validation. “If it’s hot, climb out your bedroom window and head straight to the neighbors house like we practiced.  If it’s not, make sure you say loudly enough for me to hear ‘I’m feeling the door and it’s not hot’ in case I’m testing you”. Would we remember to run our tiny hands, in our barely awake stupor, over the door’s surface prior to yanking it open, seeking to clear up the confusion about what the horrible noise was in the hallway?  Would the screechy, chirping alarm even rouse us from our deep slumber?  Would we remember to shout out the heat status of the door or would our words fail us?   Dad’s randomly timed drills, sometimes just minutes after we had pulled the covers up to our chins and turned out the lights or sometimes after we had reached our deepest of REM sleep, would get the answers to those questions.

He’d sneak down the stairs and position himself in the middle of the hallway, pressing the “test weekly” button on the alarm that hung from the ceiling in perfect symmetry between our bedroom doors and then he would wait. It only took one time facing Dad and hearing him say  “You didn’t feel the door so you’re dead! You either burned to death or died of smoke inhalation!” for us to remember to follow protocol every time thereafter.  Even all these years removed from my Dad’s fire drills whenever I hear a smoke alarm I find myself saying  “I’m feeling the door Dad.  It’s not hot. Can I go back to bed now?”

 

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