Did you know two Revolutionary giants used to hang out in our park. Washington and Lafayette met right under our tree. A tarnished plaque dated 1777 said so. Did you also know our strategizing was a lot more important than powdered-wig war secrets. We discussed baseball strategies nine ways ‘til Sunday. But whispering strategies didn’t always help our game, especially on sweltering summer days. Sometimes a slippery baseball hit the cement block backstop so hard, it became tattooed with the year 1777. When the baseball acted rubbery, those old war farts heckled us. Luckily for them, we weren’t ever interested in their lame commentary. We were only interested in playing ball in the park built for our tree–the grand oak still generously sheltering those old geezers’ ghosts.
The mighty tree was giant–a real giant. He was way taller than Washington and Lafayette standing on a whole pile of Yankees. Ten of us could just about clasp our hands together around his mammoth trunk. I was certain if our great oak had been given a mitt and some legs he would’ve made a damn fine ballplayer. Joe DiMaggio didn’t have a special park built around him with a cement block that stopped rubbery balls.
In the summer of 1971 there romped a wicked storm. The thunder was louder than a pissed off volcano. Lightning lit the sky so bright you could see bolt shadows up there. The firing white jagged bullets shot several of the great oak’s knobby arms clean off. The colossal branches covered some of the baseball field but we didn’t notice. The big limbs didn’t stay on the ground too long. Thick men in green pants came to haul them away. The workers matched the trees so we knew they were on the level. They looked how men should look who had to haul away nature. The smallest of them said our friend was a white oak. He said the white oak was mighty like him then he flexed his Popeye arm. Sally N giggled while asking if he’d swallowed a kickball. Kickball Arm said our mighty oak was over two hundred years old and that nature had a way of talking herself into new beginnings. I wanted to run home and write down what he’d said. I knew I’d forget and I did until just now. We looked at our friend’s powerful arms on the charred ground. Then the gas-powered saws came out–chained machines with voices like traffic accidents. If our tree had been Joe DiMaggio, they would have left his arms alone even if they weren’t attached.
The late summer crickets were chirping in waning conversations. Vacation was over like playing summer ball for us. There was a new grade to battle. Another badge to add to the dreadful learning sash. I always had trouble falling asleep on these nights. Though my head was heavy this night, my eyes fought gravity. From my bedroom window, I watched leafy silhouettes whooshing back and forth. Another storm–looked bad. I wished all neighborhood trees safe under my Spiderman comforter. Watching the angsty black sky light up angry white, I wasn’t thinking about stuffing my navy knees socks under a desk anymore. If this was nature talking, she was doing it really loud like my Aunt Betty who was mostly deaf.
The next morning, the lazy sun managed waking for school like we had to. Getting to the bus stop on time required a breakfast shovel and a front door sprint. I’d get whooped if I missed the bus. My mom liked hitting butts with slippers. So I shoveled and ran out the door while throwing my mom air kisses. At the end of the street, on the next block was our park. Our mighty oak was standing there sure as sunlight. I laughed when I saw his baseball cap made of clouds. I knew I shouldn’t, but I took my lucky baseball out from my backpack’s secret zipper compartment. “Don’t be late for school!” My mom’s voice yelled from my Batman pencil case. I took a few steps into the park. Who was I to say no to a mighty oak. Wanting to impress him, I threw that ball as hard as I’ve ever thrown anything in my life. Harder than the spoon, I threw at my sister’s head when she stole my animal crackers. Wouldn’t you know that giant white oak jumped sky high into the blue air. His roots were covered in one-thousand baseball cleats. I didn’t count them this was a guess. As he caught the baseball, he laughed louder than the whole Yankee team–a great booming laugh. He threw the ball back. Don’t be late for school!
The smell of a new school day ran across my bedroom windowsill. I reached my hand up and felt the damp glass. It was the first day of fifth grade. My mom was standing over my bed like our mighty oak’s baby sister. She said I was lucky to have slept through the night. The last storm of summer had been a nasty one. Down the road, a pine tree crashed through Mr. Laddy’s roof. I rushed my morning ablutions then scooted. “Don’t be late!” my mom yelled, as the storm door slammed shut behind me. I ran around the block.
Steven S, Joe M, and Sally N were standing by the park fence. There was miles of yellow tape and four green trucks. These trucks were much bigger than the one a few weeks ago. I thought the green men had returned as trucks. I wasn’t going to cry like a girl. Not in front of my teammates. Looking beyond where our mighty friend once stood tall and proud, there were no clouds shaped like baseball caps. I wondered if this was what Kickball Arm had meant about nature talking herself into new beginnings. Maybe nature thought our mighty old tree was too tired to stand up anymore.
Those four trucks had metal toothed maws that were opening wide for breakfast. One heaving boom was followed by another as their jaws began moving. I hoped somewhere in those deep death reverberations, Washington and Lafayette were giving our fallen friend a proper twenty-one gun salute on his way to tree heaven. I honored the mighty oak too in military-style, like the soldiers did in the old war movies my dad and I used to watch before he fell off our family tree. I pretended the sun was stabbing my eyes when Steven S asked if I was crying.
The rumble of bus #23’s engine was softer than an autumn leaf sailing on the breeze as it drove passed our empty bus stop. Come to think of it, I did see a cloud shaped like a baseball.
Image previously published.
If you actually read this whole piece, I appreciate your time. Thank you. I did have a great old tree in the park down the road from my house. We did play baseball there, kickball too. Washington and Lafayette did meet there and they did heckle us 😉