Friday, June 16, 2017


Fading Memory, California Beach

The photograph of my father and me shelling in California on a Pacific Ocean beach has become about as faded as my memories of him. It’s been said that most of humanity is only remembered for about two generations until there is no consciousness left to retain their memory. Fortunately, on the eve of Father’s Day, my consciousness still retains a few dim memories.

I only vaguely remember family meals, as my father was an engineer on the railroad and worked a variety of shifts due to the rigid seniority system. He never outlived the system, since he experienced a relatively early death, partially due to that system which never enabled him to live a normal life of sleeping and waking. But I do remember good times fishing, hunting, and participating in his favorite sport, baseball.

As a young man playing baseball, my father was scouted by the St. Louis Cardinals and offered a low paying position at shortstop on their farm club. He decided to abandon the dream and stay at home to help the family. That major decision in my father’s life quite probably resulted in our family’s creation. It’s good to have goals and dreams in life, but when life throws you a curve ball, it just might not be strike three. It could be ball four and a pass to begin a new path around the bases that leads to a new home. I didn’t become a professional baseball player either, but I learned that we’ve got to work hard at something to be good at it, sportsmanship, how to be a team player, developing lasting friendships with teammates, the thrill of competition, how to be a good winner as well as a good loser, and the love of a father to impart his dream to his child so that the dream remains alive.

He died as I was only beginning to transition to adulthood in college. I remember a conversation about part-time college students that were hired to supplement the summer wheat harvest and vacations. He mentioned that many of them partied and then slept on the job to recover. When I challenged their right to do this, he just smiled and noted that many of them were superior’s sons and he would be the one in trouble. That was a rude introduction to the real world. During a blustery Kansas winter snow storm, I went to the back door late at night where my mother was looking outside and inquired about my father. She mentioned that he was outside putting chains on the rear tires of our car so he could get to work. I remarked that no one should have to go outside on a night like this, but she just smiled and suggested I get bundled up and go outside to help him. When I went outside and suggested that he call in sick so he could stay home out of the storm, he just smiled and said someone had to work so our family could live—another rude introduction to the real world.

And like the movie Field of Dreams, some of the best times growing up involved the simple act of playing catch in the backyard. It’s a very human act of I-give-to-you and you-give-back connectedness, many times discussing something about life and many times in serene silence, with just the sound of the rawhide ball hitting the leather glove. The final act of redemption in the movie unfortunately doesn’t happen all too often in real life. The prodigal son gets a second chance to say, “Hey dad, you wanna have a catch”? And his dad replies, “I’d like that”.

As I became a father, my daughter and I played catch (although I quickly learned to slow it down a bit) and now there’s always the dream of playing catch with that future Hall-of-Famer, my new grandson.

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